Johnson & Johnson representative finishes almost full week of testimony in opioid trial

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NORMAN, Okla. — After nearly a full week on the stand, a company insider representing Johnson & Johnson has been released as a witness following questions from the state and defense.

Kimberly Deem-Eshleman has been with the company 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 Wednesday, the defense counsel representing the company questioned Deem-Eshleman on the ‘Smart Moves, Smart Choices’ campaign targeting teenagers. Launched in 2008, she testified this was in response to the rate of youth opioid abuse in the nation at the time.

“Part of what we were trying to accomplish as an organization was to provide these type of educational programs to address some of these issues to enforce our leadership role in pain management,” she testified. “We were trying to reach parents through doctors’ offices.”

Deem-Eshleman said the campaign, which was funded by Janssen’s marketing budget, was launched through a partnership with the National Association of School Nurses. The company viewed it as a success, citing dozens of school assemblies that highlighted the program.

“One of which has been identified as Boulevard Academy in Edmond, Oklahoma,” she said. “The videos and the classroom curricula are being used by the district and there were 200 informational postcards distributed to parents, teachers, and local treatment centers.”

According to Deem-Eshleman, the state of Oklahoma ranks number two in the nation for misuse of prescription drugs among teenagers. Oklahoma attorney Brad Beckworth questioned many young people experiencing addiction were helped as a result of the program, which Deem-Eshleman was unable to answer.

During re-direct examination, Beckworth brought up the company’s use of sales representatives hired to present new products and drugs to Oklahoma doctors.

Beckworth: “How many times did your sales reps tell doctors in Oklahoma during the 140,000 visits that they don’t have to use opioids to manage pain. How many times?”

Deem-Eshleman: “I don’t believe our representatives would have told our doctors how to diagnose or treat specifically.”

Beckworth: You don’t know of a single time that a sales rep told a doctor they didn’t have to use opioids, right?

Deem-Eshleman: “I do not.”

The state pointed to an internal company document that listed “under treatment” as a top issue facing pain management. The document was published 20 years after the company first released Duragesic, a fentanyl patch meant to relieve pain.

Beckworth: “Because pouring kilogram after kilogram after kilogram of opioid product into this state did not fix the problem of undertreated pain, did it?”

Deem-Eshleman: “That, I don’t know. They’re talking about just…there’s a disconnect. Something’s not happening right.”

Before court adjourned Wednesday, a pain specialist was called to the stand to testify. His testimony will continue on Thursday morning.

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