NORMAN, Okla. — Testimony from a corporate representative for Johnson & Johnson has entered its second day in the ongoing trial against the drug manufacturer.
The company is being sued by the state of Oklahoma in the nation’s first civil trial for allegedly fueling the opioid crisis in Oklahoma through deceptive marketing.
Kimberly Deem-Eshleman began her career with Johnson & Johnson in 1991. Deem-Eschleman has been designated as the corporate representative for this case, or the ‘face’ of the company, as described by state attorneys.
She was called to the stand late Wednesday afternoon and agreed with the state that there was an opioid epidemic in Oklahoma. Her testimony continued Thursday morning when she was questioned about the hiring and training of Johnson & Johnson sales representatives in Oklahoma.
According to the corporate representative, sales representatives are “rarely straight out of college” as suggested by the state during direct examination. However, she noted they are not doctors licensed by the state to prescribe medication.
When questioned about the training process, Deem-Eschleman testified sales representatives are trained about the pharmacology of certain drugs but she was unaware if they are trained by licensed doctors or trained about the issue of addiction.
Brad Beckworth, an attorney representing the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, claimed sales representatives “targeted” doctors with the purpose of selling or influencing more of a product. Deem-Eschleman challenged the statement, testifying the intent is to educate doctors practicing within certain specialized areas on the benefits of certain new drugs.
Deem-Eshleman testified the word "target" was frequently used when marketing any product to describe an audience.
Practicing doctors who have been out of medical school for decades commonly rely on literature, peers, and sales representatives to learn about new medicine, she said.
“You use marketing as something that sounds very dirty. Marketing isn’t a dirty term.” she told Beckworth. “You’re through medical school already so many times, there’s multiple drugs that come into play as you’re going through your career. So, what I said was often times, doctors in medical school aren’t necessarily educated on a new drug or new entrant into the marketplace.”
Referring to the company's own business conduct, Beckworth noted Johnson & Johnson strives to be "good citizens" in the communities they live and work in.
"How much money has Johnson & Johnson spent in Oklahoma to abate the opioid crisis here in Oklahoma specifically?" he questioned. "Have you spent a dollar?"
Deem-Eshleman was unable to provide an answer.
Defense attorneys for Johnson & Johnson have not had a chance to cross-examine Deem-Eschleman as of late Thursday morning. Her testimony could last through Friday, attorneys say.
Oklahoma Counsel for Janssen, whose parent company is Johnson & Johnson, John Sparks gave us the following statements:
“On a level playing field, facts matter, yet the government continues to make vague, one-size-fits-all claims. Janssen never manufactured, sold or marketed oxycodone or hydrocodone medications. The government continues to focus on these other products and not on whether the Company’s products are a cause of this crisis.”
“The company manufactured FDA-approved pain medicines, and it took steps to educate doctors so they could make informed treatment decisions. That’s what you’d expect a responsible company to do.”
“The medicines we did manufacture had a miniscule market share in Oklahoma, and the ingredients the Company’s former subsidiary supplied to other manufacturers were produced under strict regulations and quotas set by the DEA.”