State enters second week of opioid trial, concludes questions for Johnson & Johnson representative

NORMAN, Okla. - The state finished questioning the corporate representative for Johnson & Johnson on Monday as the trial entered its second week.

The state of Oklahoma is challenging the nation's largest drug maker in civil court, claiming it caused a public nuisance by fueling the state's opioid crisis through deceptive marketing and downplaying the risks of addiction and abuse.

Kimberly Deem-Eshleman, a corporate representative for Johnson & Johnson, spent nearly four full court days on the stand being questioned by Oklahoma attorney Brad Beckworth. Her testimony largely centered around the company's marketing practices.

On Monday, the state referenced the website PrescribeResponsibly.com, which was once run by the company Janssen. Its parent company is Johnson & Johnson.

"You all have taken this website down, haven’t you?" questioned Beckworth. "Less than a month before this trial began, right?"

This was a form of "unbranded marketing," according to Deem-Eshleman. The website did not discuss the company's drugs or products specifically, but rather, opioids in general. It also included published works from various contributors who were paid by Janssen.

According to the corporate representative, the website was taken down in April because "it was no longer a valid platform."

Pointing out one article in particular Monday, Beckworth noted it mentioned the benefits of opioids in the very first paragraph but did not reference any risks of abuse or addiction. Risks were something he said even the company's own experts have pointed out in the past.

"In your advisory board in 2001, Mr. Katz said the Greeks noted harmful effects including addiction," Beckworth said. "That’s what you were told by your experts and that is far different, when you look at that summary of the history of these drugs, it’s far different than what you put out on the World Wide Web, isn’t it?"

Deem-Eshleman said the website and the advisory board were different situations.

The defense counsel has not had an opportunity to cross-examine her yet. News 4 is told the plan is to begin cross-examination on Tuesday morning.

John Sparks, Oklahoma counsel for Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Johnson & Johnson released the following statement:

“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 activities of Company sales representatives were appropriate, proper, and lawful, and they received extensive compliance training. Any switching of patients from hydrocodone or oxycodone to Janssen’s medications stood to decrease overall abuse because the Company’s products had lower rates of diversion and abuse.” 

Court resumes at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

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