• In August an Oklahoma judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million for deceptive marketing that helped create an opioid crisis
  • The ruling was the third pharmaceutical company ordered to pay Oklahoma for their role in creating the opioid crisis
  • Several states have begun exploring the potential of treating pain management with cannabis

In the last week of August an Oklahoma judge ruled that Johnson & Johnson pay $572 million to the state after deceptively marketing painkillers and helping fuel the state’s opioid crisis.

Johnson & Johnson

Oklahoma sought $17.5 billion for the company’s role in creating the opioid crisis that has claimed more than 6,000 of the state’s residents. “The defendants caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome in Oklahoma,” Judge Thad Balkman said.

While it was still a victory, the amount awarded was far less than the state had requested. It was reported the $572 million would only fund a single year of Oklahoma’s opioid recovery program. Balkman acknowledged the recovery cost would be much higher, but also claimed the state failed to “present sufficient evidence of the amount of time and costs necessary beyond year one to abate the opioid crisis.”

Though several of the state’s witnesses testified that the plan will take at least 20 years to work, the state did not present sufficient evidence of the amount of time and costs necessary beyond year one to abate the opioid crisis.

Judge Thad Balkman Via NPR

Purdue Pharma And Teva Pharmaceutical

Johnson & Johnson is the third company to settle with Oklahoma for contributing to the opioid crisis. In March, Purdue Pharma, the maker of the powerful opioid OxyContin, paid $270 million to the state. Oklahoma accused Purdue and the Sackler family of helping create the opioid crisis by deceptively downplaying the drug’s addictive and deadly effects. The Oklahoma settlement was the first of 1,600 pending lawsuits against Purdue.

In May, Israel-based Teva Pharmaceutical agreed to pay an $85 million settlement to the state. Following the settlement, Teva said the agreement “does not establish any wrongdoing on the part of the company.” Teva also claimed the company had “not contributed to the abuse of opioids in Oklahoma in any way.” Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter announced the decision in a tweet on May 26.

Cannabis Vs The Opioid Crisis

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 130 people die every day in America from opioids. The total “economic burden” on the country from prescription opioid abuse alone is an estimated $78.5 billion a year, which includes healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement. Pharmaceutical companies in the 90s promised patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers. Not even 30 years later, 1.7 million Americans suffer from a substance abuse problem related to prescription opioids. In comparison, an estimated 652,000 suffer from a heroin abuse problem.

Some states where cannabis is accessible are beginning to take a different approach to tackle the opioid crisis. Colorado, Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, and Nevada allow doctors to recommend medical cannabis for any condition they would normally prescribe an opioid. While in medical and recreational states cannabis is generally available, this gives patients and doctors the ability to attempt to treat pain for issues such as post-operation pain relief with cannabis.

Can cannabis replace opioids? The few studies that exist support both sides of the argument, but the reality is cannabis could never fully replace opioids in regards to the treatment of chronic pain. However, some studies have shown a benefit from using cannabis instead of opioids for pain reduction. A study from the Minnesota Department of Health showed 42% of patients reported a pain reduction of 30% or greater from cannabis use. “This study helps improve our understanding of the potential of medical cannabis for treating pain,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. However, a 2018 study from Ireland claimed medical cannabis users were more likely to use prescription drugs for both medical and nonmedical reasons.

While there is an extremely low chance that cannabis can replace opioids there is potential to help avoid it in patients that do not suffer from injuries serious enough to warrant the more hardcore painkillers. The potential of replacing opioids with cannabis in some scenarios mixed with a barrage of lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies could be promising for those within the cannabis industry. If studies show cannabis can significantly have a positive impact on the opioid crisis it will open the door to an entirely new world of potential growth within the industry as demand for quality medical cannabis will likely increase, which in return looks for promising for current and future investors.

Along with cannabis possibly becoming a medicinal alternative for some pain treatment, in the near future it could become a financially needed alternative to opioids. With thousands of lawsuits lined up against these pharmaceutical companies for causing an opioid epidemic, there is a very likely chance the price of opioids will go up. It is also possible these companies will make it harder to obtain a prescription to opioids in order to protect themselves from a repeat of the lawsuits coming in from around the country. While some claim the current fines being paid are just a drop in the bucket to these billion dollar companies, which is correct, the massive barrage of lawsuits coming could be enough to grab their attention.

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