What are opioids, why are they dangerous and why did Johnson & Johnson have to pay £470million?

HIGHLY addictive opioids are back in the news this week after an Oklahoma judge agreed that pharmaceuticals company, Johnson & Johnson had to pay compensation of £468m for their role in the opioid crisis.

The “family company” were accused of deliberately marketing the dangerous drugs as “wonder cures”. Here’s more about the pain meds, why they’re so dangerous and what J&J’s involvement with them are.

 Opioids are a highly addictive pain medication


Opioids are a highly addictive pain medicationCredit: Alamy

What are opioids?

Opioids are a group of pain-relieving drugs that work with the opioid receptors in your body.

Opioids can be derived from the poppy plant, like morphine, or made synthetically in a laboratory, like Fentanyl.

When used properly and with medical supervision, opioid medications can be used to help control acute pain.

Opioids, when used incorrectly, can be highly addictive.

 The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes US opioid misuse as a 'serious national crisis'


The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes US opioid misuse as a ‘serious national crisis’Credit: Reuters

Why are they dangerous?

When taken in high doses, opioids can seriously slow your heart rate and breathing – misuse of the drugs often result in fatal overdose.

Feelings of pleasure derived from taking the drugs at high doses can result in addiction.

Because of the danger they pose, opioids are often a poor long-term medical solution.

According to the National Instiute on Drug Abuse, more than 130 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids a day.

On their website they describe the misuse of opioids as a “serious national crisis,” writing: “The total ‘economic burden’ of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.”

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They attribute the opioid “crisis” to pharmaceutical companies who “reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers” in the 1990s.

The NIDA goes on to describe how this reassurance led to an increase of the prescription of these drugs, which lead to an estimated 1.7m opioid addicts in the US by 2017.

How addictive are opioids?

  • An estimated 12 per cent of those prescribed opioids by a medical professional will develop an addiction.
  • Roughly four to six per cent of non-prescription opioid users transition to heroin.
  • Around 80 per cent of heroin users starting by using opioids.
 Johnson & Johnson have been accused of deliberately marketing the problematic drugs as a 'miracle cure'


Johnson & Johnson have been accused of deliberately marketing the problematic drugs as a ‘miracle cure’Credit: AFP or licensors

Why did Johnson & Johnson have to pay £470million?

On Tuesday, August 27, 2019, Oklahoma District Judge Thad Balkman agreed Johnson & Johnson may have been responsible for some of the 6,000 painkiller overdoses in the state since 2000.

Judge Balkman, the Cleveland County magistrate, ruled that the multinational should pay a £468m settlement in compensation.

The manufacturers of household products like baby powder and cotton buds also make prescription pharmaceuticals.

Judge Balkman ruled in favour of prosecutors who claimed J&J and its subsidiaries flooded the market with the dangerous drugs.

He wrote: “The opioid crisis is an imminent danger and menace to Oklahomans.

“Defendants’ opioid marketing, in its multitude of forms, was false, deceptive and misleading.”

The US company, worth £280billion, deliberately and aggressively marketed its drugs as wonder-cures for chronic pain, it was alleged.

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