Newly released federal data shows the extent Israeli pharmaceutical giant Teva and other companies fueled the addiction crisis in the US by flooding the country with billions of pills even as overdose deaths were accelerating.
Records kept by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration show that 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills — the vast majority of them generics, not brand names — were shipped to US pharmacies from 2006 to 2012.
The annual number swelled by more than 50 percent during that period of time even as the body count climbed. The powerful painkillers flowed faster even after Purdue Pharma was fined $635 million for falsely marketing OxyContin as less addictive than other opioids.
The data was released this week by a federal court in Ohio as part of a far-reaching opioids case that ruled the detailed drug-shipment data compiled by the DEA should be made public, over the industry’s objections.
The maker of OxyContin has been cast as the chief villain in the nation’s opioid crisis, but the figures suggest Purdue Pharma had plenty of help in flooding the market.
The data shows Purdue, perhaps the most publicly vilified of the manufacturers, produced only a small fraction of the nation’s opioids — about 3% between 2006 and 2012, according to the data. Three companies — SpecGX, Par Pharmaceutical and Activis Pharma — that sold lower-priced generic drugs, including versions of OxyContin, combined to make 90% of the pills.
During that time, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA produced 690 million opioid pills, amounting to 0.9 percent of the US market.
Activis Pharma in 2016, the second-largest opioid manufacturer that accounts for 34.5% of the total, was acquired by Teva in 2016, after the period cited in the data.
Prescription and illegal opioids such as heroin and fentanyl have been factors in more than 430,000 deaths in the US since 2000, according to the CDC. From 2006 to 2012, annual opioid deaths rose from under 18,000 a year to more than 23,000. During that time, prescription drugs were cited as factors in just under half the deaths.
Since then, overall opioid deaths in the US have doubled, though on Wednesday the CDC reported that drug overdose deaths of all kinds probably fell last year for the first time in nearly three decades.
Nearly every state has filed a lawsuit, and most of them have focused on Purdue and members of the Sackler family, who own the Stamford, Connecticut-based company and are major philanthropists whose donations to museums and universities have now come under scrutiny. Many local governments have also sued other drugmakers, distribution companies and pharmacies.
Oklahoma is the first US state to sue opioid manufacturers, claiming that Johnson & Johnson, Purdue and Teva were responsible for fueling the state’s addiction crisis by using an aggressive and misleading marketing campaign that overstated the effectiveness of opioids while downplaying the risks.
The state settled with Purdue for $270 million and Teva for $85 million ahead of the May trial. A motion by Johnson & Johnson’s lawyers to have the case dropped was denied by an Oklahoma judge last week.
Both settlements faced criticism from state lawmakers, who complained of being left out of the settlement negotiations and argued that the government should be responsible for dispersing funds.
The Purdue settlement, which calls for about $200 million to go into a trust to fund an addiction studies center at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa, prompted lawmakers to pass a bill clarifying that any settlement funds go the state treasury. After the Teva settlement was announced, the Republican governor and legislative leaders argued the deal violated the spirit of the new law and asked to intervene in the case before a mediator was appointed and an agreement reached. The money will go into a special state fund that lawmakers will decide how to spend.
Though Teva settled the case, the ongoing litigation over prescription opioid sales and the possibility of more lawsuits being filed against the company has seen the company’s stock tumble.
Teva’s shares hit a 17-year low this week after Morgan Stanley downgraded its rating, citing the opioid lawsuits and the company’s outstanding debt.
Teva shares were trading at $8.07 as of Wednesday, around a 60% drop from early February.
The Calcalist financial daily reported this week that Teva is facing “many more” claims over its alleged role in the fueling the addiction crisis. According to the Haaretz daily, Teva could face up to $4 billion in penalties in future opioid lawsuits.
Teva maintains that it didn’t market the drugs and was just meeting the demand of prescriptions filled out by doctors — and that it didn’t produce more opioids than the DEA allowed.