FILE PHOTO: The CEO of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Kare Schultz speaks during a news conference to discuss the company's 2019 outlooks in Tel Aviv, Israel February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
Kåre Schultz says plaintiff lawyers will have to look elsewhere for big settlements © Reuters

The chief executive of Israeli drugmaker Teva hit out at the lawyers behind thousands of cases accusing opioid manufacturers of being responsible for an epidemic of addiction in the US.

Kåre Schultz compared the claims against Teva and others to trying to pin the blame for drunk driving on the makers of alcoholic drinks.

On a call with analysts following Teva’s latest quarterly results, Mr Schultz said addiction was a “serious societal issue” that has become “a little game for a group of lawyers”.

“What about alcohol? Imagine if we said that the bill for all the alcohol-related traffic accidents and broken families should be picked up by everyone manufacturing, distributing and selling alcohol,” he said.

Teva is preparing to face its first trial over the crisis in Oklahoma at the end of this month.

“The plaintiff lawyers look at where they can get some money,” Mr Schultz said. “We have a lot of debt so we don’t have that much money, I think they will have to find someone else if they want big settlements. It won’t be with us.”

There are over 1,600 lawsuits related to the opioid crisis against companies including Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson and Teva, which sold generic opioids and a speciality product for cancer patients’ pain. Many of the suits have been compiled into a multi-district litigation case that is due in court in October.

Mr Schultz said he would not be surprised if cases ended up in the Supreme Court. “The principle is that you can in any way be deemed responsible for something you are doing when you are following all the laws and regulations of the land,” he said. Teva used the exact labelling required by the US Food and Drug Administration and did not promote its generics, he said.

Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, settled the Oklahoma case in March, agreeing, alongside its owners the Sackler family, to pay $370m to support the research and treatment of addicts. But Mr Schultz said it would be “very strange to do anything with settlement when you have done absolutely nothing wrong”.

Teva made a loss in the first quarter and missed revenue expectations. Its sales declined because of generic competition to its multiple sclerosis and asthma drugs. The drugmaker, which has $26.7bn in net debt, is also in the middle of a corporate restructuring designed to reduce its costs by $3bn this year.

The company reported first-quarter sales of $4.3bn, lower than the consensus forecast of $4.4bn and 16 per cent lower than the same period last year. Sales of two products that faced new competition, Copoxane for MS and ProAir for asthma, more than halved year-on-year. Revenues in the US, Teva’s largest market, fell 20 per cent to $1.9bn.

Teva lost $105m in the quarter, compared with net income of $1bn in the same quarter the year before. But it still beat expectations on earnings, reporting adjusted earnings per share of 60 cents, compared with the average analyst estimate for 58 cents.

The company’s shares, which had fallen 19 per cent in the past year, were down a little over 1 per cent in midday trading in New York.

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