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US jury finds Israeli pharmaceutical company guilty of 'death and destruction'

A banner displays a Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. logo at the entrance to the company's new factory in Godollo, Hungary (File photo)

A US court jury in the state of New York has found an Israeli multinational pharmaceutical company guilty of fueling the opioids drug crisis that led to the death of thousands in the major state.

In a lawsuit originally filed by the New York's attorney general in 2019, the Jerusalem-based drug maker Teva Pharmaceuticals and other opioid producers and distributers were indicted for aggressively marketing painkillers across the state, while doing nothing to minimize addiction, National Public Radio (NPR) reported Friday.

"Teva Pharmaceuticals USA and others misled the American people about the true dangers of opioids," New York’s Attorney General Lititia James said in a news release issued after the jury’s ruling on Thursday.

"Today, we took a significant step in righting the wrongs this country has collectively experienced over the last two decades," James added, further insisting that the jury found the Israeli firm and its affiliates liable for "death and destruction" across the US.

According to the report, a separate trial will follow to determine the amount of fines Teva will have to pay in the case, in which New York State and two Long Island counties took on a pack of drug companies.

In Thursday's verdict, it added, a Suffolk County jury found the Israeli drug maker played a key role in what is legally termed a public nuisance but had lethal consequences — an opioid use epidemic linked to more than 500,000 deaths throughout the US in the past two decades.

Teva, which makes medications using the powerful opioid fentanyl, claimed, however, that it "strongly disagrees" with the verdict and plans to appeal the ruling.

The development came as state and local governments across the US, along with Native American tribes, unions, school districts and others have sued the country’s powerful drug industry over the painkillers.

The suit further accused drug companies of breaching their legal duties "to profiteer from the plague they knew would be unleashed." The state and counties also underlined that drug manufacturers collaborated to mislead people and downplay the serious risks of opioid addiction, and that drug distributors skirted systems meant to limit orders for painkillers.

The report also added that Teva is known for making generic drugs, but the lawsuit focused on Actiq and Fentora, two brand-name fentanyl drugs approved for some cancer patients.

The New York lawsuit further insisted that the Israeli firm repeatedly promoted such drugs more broadly for other types of pain, in a "deceptive and dangerous marketing strategy."

"They try to say they're selling legal products. The only problem is: They're selling them illegally," lawyer Hunter Shkolnik, who represented Nassau County, said at a virtual news conference on Thursday. "The jury saw that what they're doing is wrong."

NPR also cited New York State as noting that 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 that 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.

According to the report, Teva was the only manufacturing defendant left in the suit after others settled out of court -- most recently Allergan Finance LLC in December. The various settlements have netted New York up to $1.5 billion.

Elsewhere in the US, it added, only a few opioid cases have gone to verdicts so far with no clear consensus on outcomes.

An Oklahoma judge ruled against drug maker Johnson & Johnson in 2019, but the state's Supreme Court overturned that decision in November. A week earlier, a California judge also ruled in favor of the powerful drug makers — including Teva.

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