Teva Pharmaceuticals Found Liable For Opioid Crisis by Jury, Trial Will Determine Penalty

A New York jury determined that drugmaker Teva Pharmaceuticals helped contribute to the opioid crisis that rocked the United States.

Teva is awaiting a separate trial for sentencing but is already planning to appeal the decision. The company primarily makes generic drugs, although two of their products, Actiq and Fentora, were shown to contain the highly addictive narcotic fentanyl.

"The plaintiffs presented no evidence of medically unnecessary prescriptions, suspicious or diverted orders, no evidence of oversupply by the defendants," the company explained in a statement, "and no causal relationship between Teva's conduct including its marketing and any harm to the public in the state."

However, the prosecution claims they provided a detailed case as to why Teva helped facilitate the opioid epidemic that has claimed more than 500,000 lives. Specifically, prosecuting lawyers claimed that the marketing for Actiq and Fentora was expanded to claim they treated multiple types of pain instead of the pains caused by cancer, which they were originally approved for.

"They try to say they're selling legal products. The only problem is: They're selling them illegally," said lawyer Hunter Shkolnik. "The jury saw that what they're doing is wrong."

The Teva prosecution is just one of many lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies filed by New York. The state settled with McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health Inc. and Amerisource Bergen Drug Corporation in July. The companies agreed to pay $1.1 billion in damages caused by the opioid epidemic.

Teva Logo
A picture taken on June 10, 2013 shows the processing factory of Israel's Pharmaceutical Industries Teva Sante in Sens, south of Paris. The pharmaceutical company has been found guilty of helping to worsen the United States opioid epidemic in a New York trial. Photo by Fred Dufour/AFP via Getty Images

"Teva Pharmaceuticals USA and others misled the American people about the true dangers of opioids," Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, said in a news release. "Today, we took a significant step in righting the wrongs this country has collectively experienced over the last two decades."

Around the country, state and local governments, Native American tribes, unions, school districts and others have sued the drug industry over the painkillers.

New York's lawsuit, filed in 2019, targeted several opioid producers and distributors, companies that buy medications in bulk and sell them to pharmacies.

Teva said Thursday it "continues to focus on increasing access to essential medicines to patients" and believes a national settlement of opioid issues is in patients' best interest.

New York said the conduct of the various opioid companies named in the suit cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in addiction treatment bills and other expenses. Lawyers for the counties suggested the Teva could be held liable for tens of billions of dollars, or more, in damages.

"The numbers are staggering, what it has cost our communities and what it will continue to cost our communities" in emergency services for overdose victims, drug rehabilitation programs and more, Suffolk County's lawyer, Jayne Conroy, said at the virtual news conference.

Teva was the sole manufacturing defendant left in the suit after others settled, most recently Allergan Finance LLC in December. The various settlements have netted New York up to $1.5 billion.

The trial started months ago. The jury began deliberating Dec. 14, taking some days off for Christmas.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Cholesterol pills Atorvatin Teva 10 mg and Atorovastatin Actavis 10 mg in different prices for sale 30 August 2014. Atorvatin is one of the generic drugs that Teva Pharmaceuticals manufactures, but does not contain fentanyl like Actiq and Fentora. Photo by Francis Dean/Corbis via Getty Images