State attorneys general announce nationwide bipartisan probe into opioid marketing & production
On Thursday, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced that her office has been working with the bipartisan coalition to evaluate “whether manufacturers used illegal practices in the marketing and sale of opioids and worsened this deadly crisis,” according to a statement.
Healey’s office, which is on the executive committee leading the investigation, said the attorneys general are using their investigative authority to issue subpoenas for documents and testimony. However, they have not identified any specific targets of the ongoing investigation.
“State attorneys general almost never announce the existence of investigations before they are completed, but the opioid crisis is a uniquely dire situation,” Washington DC Attorney General Karl Racine said in a statement.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 33,000 people died of opioid-related overdoses in the US in 2015, quadruple the rate in 1999. Opioids are the leading cause of overdose deaths in the US, with 91 Americans dying every day.
A study by the CDC found that Americans consume opioids “at a greater rate than any other nation,” twice as much per capita as the second-ranking nation, Canada.
The investigation was announced two weeks after Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit against leading prescription opioid manufacturers, accusing them of engaging in a “deceptive marketing campaign” to persuade doctors and patients that opioids are not addictive.
Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen released a statement, saying that it would be “irresponsible to predict at this stage whether our efforts will lead to legal action or relief,” but added that his office will “pursue this investigation fully.”
Last Thursday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requested Endo Pharmaceuticals remove its painkiller Opana ER from the market. The drug’s active ingredient, oxymorphone, is an opioid similar to morphine, but 10 times more potent. The agency said it was the first time it has taken steps to stop the sale of an opioid medication over concerns of public abuse.
"While I certainly do not want to assume where this investigation may lead, I think it is fair to say that it wouldn't be the first time [that] pharmaceutical companies used deceptive sales and marketing of certain drugs for tremendous financial benefit," Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin said in a statement.
“We owe it to the victims and their families to examine every aspect of this epidemic – from manufacturing of legal opioids to illegal diversion – if we are going to… truly get at the heart of the crisis," Kilmartin added.