California judge rules for Israeli Teva in major opioid lawsuit

The lawsuit was originally filed in April, when several California counties accused drugmakers of fueling America's opioid crisis.

An Israeli flag flutters near the logo of Teva Tech which is part of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries in Neot Hovav, southern Israel December 14, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
An Israeli flag flutters near the logo of Teva Tech which is part of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries in Neot Hovav, southern Israel December 14, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

Israeli multinational drug company Teva Pharmaceuticals has been found not liable in a California lawsuit filed against it and three other pharmaceutical giants, in which California county governments – namely Santa Clara, Los Angeles and Orange counties – sued the drug-makers for $50 billion. 

A California judge on Monday said he would rule against several large counties that accused four drugmakers of fueling an opioid epidemic, saying they had failed at trial to prove their $50 billion case.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson issued a tentative ruling finding Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, Endo International PLC and AbbVie Inc's Allergan unit not liable for creating a public nuisance. The ruling marked the first trial win for any drug companies in the over 3,300 lawsuits filed by states and local governments over the "opioid crisis" currently ensnaring the American public.

Teva was notably the only non-American company to face charges in the suit.

Wilson added that even if any of the drugmakers' marketing contained false or misleading statements about the risks and benefits of opioids, the populous Santa Clara, Los Angeles and Orange counties and the city of Oakland could not hold them liable, saying that "any adverse downstream consequences flowing from medically appropriate prescriptions cannot constitute an actionable public nuisance," per an existing federal and state government ruling.

The lawsuit was originally filed in mid-April 2021, when the three California counties – along with the city of Oakland – accused the drugmakers of fueling the United States' opioid crisis, which has led to a staggering nearly 500,000 deaths over two decades from opioid overdosing.

The plaintiffs claimed that the companies in question had overtly promoted opioid painkillers as a solution to chronic pain, causing overprescription nationwide and leading to America's infamous opioid epidemic.

It was estimated that 10.1 million people aged 12 or older misused opioids in the past year, according to the US HHS Department of Health and Human Services. Some 9.7 million people misused prescription pain relievers while 745,000 people used heroin – many of whom had transitioned from prescription painkillers as their addictions worsened.

A NEEDLE used for shooting heroin and other opioids litters the ground in Philadelphia last year. The effect of many opioids can be made stronger through injection (credit: REUTERS/CHARLES MOSTOLLER)A NEEDLE used for shooting heroin and other opioids litters the ground in Philadelphia last year. The effect of many opioids can be made stronger through injection (credit: REUTERS/CHARLES MOSTOLLER)

"You won't hear from a single doctor who was ever misled," Collie James, Teva's lawyer, said at the start of the suit.

Teva, founded in 1935 in Jerusalem and currently headquartered in Petah Tikvah, Israel, is one of Israel's largest corporations, with annual revenues nearing $17 billion according to its latest financial disclosures and its shares listed on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. Teva Pharmaceuticals was the largest generic drug manufacturer in the world until last year, when it was surpassed by Pfizer. Teva remains the eighteenth-largest pharmaceutical company in the world overall.

Despite the ruling, Judge Wilson said he was aware of the toll the deadly opioid epidemic has inflicted on society – and that hospitalizations as a result of drug abuse and opioid-related overdose deaths "starkly demonstrate the enormity of the ongoing problem."

US-based Johnson & Johnson, who was among the four companies named in the suit, said the decision showed that its "actions relating to the marketing and promotion of its important prescription pain medications were appropriate and responsible, and did not cause any public nuisance" in an official statement.