Johnson & Johnson attorney cross-examines corporate representative in opioid trial

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NORMAN, Okla. - After nearly four full days of questions from the state, the corporate representative from the nation's drugmaker was cross-examined by attorneys for Johnson & Johnson on Tuesday.

Kimberly Deem-Eshleman has been with Johnson & Johnson for nearly 28 years. Her current position is Regional Business Director of Janssen Pharmaceuticals, which is owned by Johnson & Johnson.

The company is being sued by the state of Oklahoma in the nation's first civil trial over the opioid epidemic and accused of downplaying the risks of addiction through deceptive marketing.

On Tuesday, Deem-Eshleman testified the company's goal was to educate doctors on both the benefits and risks with their drugs and products but ultimately, she said the decision to prescribe is solely up to doctors.

Larry Ottaway, lead trial counsel for Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Johnson & Johnson, questioned Deem-Eshleman on two Janssen products specifically Tuesday: Duragesic and Nucynta.

Duragesic, which comes in the form of a fentanyl patch, is applied to the body and designed to treat patients with chronic pain through its 72-hour slow release of medication. Nucynta is available in forms of both extended and immediate release.

Deem-Eshleman said the 'extended release' form first became available in 2011. According to her testimony Tuesday, the company was aware addiction was a problem at the time they were launching the product, so they tried to market the drug "in a responsible way" and released it as a capsule.

"It was in a way that was very difficult to abuse. Difficult to crush. Difficult to manipulate. We approached the FDA for language around what we term ’tamper resistant," she said.

The defense has countered the state's claims the company misrepresented the risks of their products and pointed to several warning labels as examples.

Deem-Eshleman read one Duragesic label out loud in court, which stated "warning: may be habit forming". It was approved by the FDA.

"So, it says here that Duragesic can be abused in a manner similar to other opioids. Legal or illicit. This should be considered when administering or prescribing or dispensing Duragesic," she said, referring to a 2005 label.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter says he remains confident in the state’s case.

“We also believe that the transcripts are clear with regard to J&J sales reps presenting themselves as pain experts, although typically they have no training in addiction science or the practice of medicine,” Attorney General Hunter said. “It’s clear they ignored advice from their internal scientists with regard to using data to sell their pharmaceuticals.”

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