States investigate opioid manufacturers

Posted at 5:09 AM, Jun 16, 2017

A broad coalition of state attorneys general from across the country have partnered together on a bipartisan committee to probe the marketing and sales practices of opioid manufacturers.

The aim is to investigate what role manufacturers may have played in contributing to the current 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 deaths involving a prescription opioid. In fact, 3 out 4 new heroin users start with legal narcotics, such as oxycodone or hydrocodone. These legal painkillers are chemically similar 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. Asked if the state were participating in some way with this new coalition, CNN was told "no comment."

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.

While the exact number of states participating in the investigation is 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 exact number of states participating in the investigation is not clear and that may be due in part because of the early nature of the investigation. 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."

In addition to Ohio, municipalities such as the cities of Everett, Washington and Chicago, along with counties in West Virginia and Tennessee, and the Cherokee Nation have all filed litigation against manufacturers alleging the use of deceptive marketing practices to push opioid painkillers.

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.

CNN reached out to each state for additional comment beyond what was announced and didn't receive any additional information.