States investigate opioid manufacturers

Story highlights

  • State attorneys general investigate manufacturers' role in opioid crisis
  • About half of all opioid overdoses involve prescription drugs, CDC says

(CNN)A broad coalition of state attorneys general from across the country has partnered on a bipartisan committee to look into the marketing and sales practices of opioid manufacturers.

The aim is to investigate what role manufacturers may have played in contributing to the opioid epidemic.

Drugs kill more than guns or car accidents

    According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 33,000 lives were lost to opioid overdose in 2015, nearly half of those involving a prescription opioid. In fact, three of four new heroin users start with legal narcotics, such as oxycodone or hydrocodone. These legal painkillers are chemically similar to or derived from the poppy plant, like heroin.
    Opioid overdoses have quadrupled in the United States since 1999. Drug overdoses, most of them from opioids, are the leading cause of accidental death, killing more people than cars or guns.
    The move by these chief law enforcement officers comes more than two weeks after Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit against five drug companies, accusing them of misleading physicians about the risks of opioid medications. DeWine's office had no comment when asked whether the state was participating in some way with this new coalition.

    A majority of attorneys general cited

    Announcements from some of the coalition members did not detail specific actions their committee would take or specify which companies they would be taking action against. However, press statements said they would use subpoenas to ascertain documents and testimony. It is unclear when those actions will begin.
    PhRMA, the trade group that represents the pharmaceutical industry, said it was unable to comment on the investigation.
    Although the exact number of states participating in the investigation is also unclear, a statement from Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt's office said the coalition consists "of a majority of attorneys general from across the country."
    "State attorneys general almost never announce the existence of investigations before they are completed, but the opioid crisis is a uniquely dire situation," said Attorney General Karl Racine of the District of Columbia. "Deaths from opioid overdoses are skyrocketing across our country, and the District is no stranger to that trend. We are looking into what role, if any, marketing and related practices might have played in the increasing prescription and use of these powerful and addictive drugs."

    Allegations of profits over people

    The early nature of the investigation might be one reason why the number of states participating is not clear. Also, because each state has its own set of laws, each may ultimately choose to file complaints under different sets of statutes.
    "The multistate investigation will help us determine the appropriate course of action we can take as attorneys general to address the opioid epidemic," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said.
    Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said, "I want to know whether drug companies, seeking higher profits, have recklessly and unlawfully pushed addictive opioids."
    Madigan added, "We must hold drug companies accountable for their role in the epidemic levels of opioid overdoses and deaths in Illinois and around the country."
    Municipalities such as the cities of Everett, Washington, and Chicago, along with counties in West Virginia and Tennessee, have all filed litigation against manufacturers alleging the use of deceptive marketing practices to push opioid painkillers.
    The Cherokee Nation has sued distributors and retailers of these drugs, such as pharmacies, over the epidemic. The complaint accuses companies of not complying with federal drug regulations by not keeping detailed information on the medications they sell or protecting pills from theft.
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    Investigations are also occurring on Capitol Hill. In late March, Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri began an inquiry into the marketing practices of some of the country's most profitable opioid manufacturers.
    No additional information was available from each of the 50 states.
    The announcement of the investigation came just one day before President Trump's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, had its first public meeting.