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Is West Virginia JUST an aberration? So far it’s the only state to have hauled Purdue Pharma L.P. into court over the drug company’s handling of its popular painkiller OxyContin. But other states, which are also battling drug abuse problems, say that they are watching the West Virginia case and mulling their options. “We’re taking a wait-and-see approach,” says James Cameron, the drug prosecution coordinator for the Maine attorney general’s office. In an era of vigorous state oversight, those statements should send shivers down the spine of any deep-pocketed company’s GC. It was almost four years ago that states got Big Tobacco to pony up $206 billion in settlements. Spurred by that success, they moved on to the Microsoft antitrust war. Anyone who doubts that state attorneys general are still on the warpath need look no further than Eliot Spitzer, New York’s top prosecutor, who’s now after Wall Street firms for the advice they gave to clients during the nineties gold rush. In weighing their case against OxyContin and Purdue, the states are motivated not only by concerns about the health implications of drug abuse, but by monetary factors, too. Some states are proceeding alone on this front, while others are weighing collective action. For example, Florida and Alabama have both launched individual probes into Purdue’s signature drug. The Florida investigation is ongoing, according to the state attorney general’s office, which declined further comment. Alabama has “declined to participate [in litigation] at this time,” says a spokeswoman for Attorney General Bill Pryor. OxyContin abuse also affects states’ coffers. David Lunden, the assistant attorney general and director of Maryland’s Medicaid fraud control unit, says that a prescription for the drug carries a retail value of as much as $500. (The potent pills sells for ten times that amount on the street.) Medicaid patients pay $1 for the tabletsand the states make up the difference. Collectively, some states are looking at other ways to address drug abuse, and they aren’t ruling out a joint legal strategy. The street traffic in other, more traditional painkillers is growing. And The National Association of Attorneys General formed a task force in March 2001 to tackle the problem of drug abuse involving a number of prescription drugs, not just OxyContin. Lunden’s boss, Maryland attorney general J. Joseph Curran, Jr. is one of the group’s chairs. The task force is looking at several palliatives, including litigation. Maine’s Cameron credits Purdue for speaking out about OxyContin abuse but warns that, unless the company does more to combat the drug’s misuse, “this certainly has the potential of becoming a major, multistate class action. . . . It’s very much like the early days of the tobacco litigation.” Purdue hopes that the parallel ends there. K.C.

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