A bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general is expanding its investigation into Big Pharma’s alleged role in the prescription painkiller and heroin addiction epidemic gripping the nation.
The group of 41 state AGs announced Tuesday that it is issuing subpoenas to several pharmaceutical drug manufacturers for information about how the companies market their opioids. The original investigation, launched in June, applied only to OxyContin and Dilaudid maker Purdue Pharma Inc. Now the investigation has grown to include Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc., maker of Opana and Percocet; Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., which makes Duragesic and Nucynta; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc., maker of Actiq and Fentora; and Kadian manufacturer Allergan. The probe also extends to drug distributing giants AmerisourceBergen Corp., Cardinal Health and McKesson Corp.
An email seeking comment from the trade group representing the pharmaceutical industry, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, declined to comment.
These companies also are facing a spate of lawsuits in federal, state and county courts across the United States brought by plaintiffs lawyers who have teamed with government officials to sue Big Pharma through contingency fee agreements. The suits generally contend prescription opioid drugmakers intentionally engaged in a targeted marketing campaign claiming that their painkillers could be prescribed nonaddictively. Instead, according to the suits and many AGs’ comments issued Tuesday, the marketing techniques led to patients becoming addicted to the prescription opioid painkillers.
“Too often, prescription opioids are the on-ramp to addiction for millions of Americans,” said New York AG Eric Schneiderman in a news release. “We’re committed to getting to the bottom of a broken system that has fueled the epidemic and taken far too many lives.”
Illegal and prescription opioids were involved in 33,091 deaths in 2015, including 2,754 in the state of New York, the New York Attorney General’s Office said, citing statistics from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also said opioid overdoses quadrupled since 1999.
“We deserve to hear from these drugmakers what they knew about the addictive and deadly nature of opioid painkillers, and whether they misrepresented those risks in order to increase corporate profits,” said Massachusetts AG Maura Healey in a statement. “We are expanding our investigation into opioid manufacturers and distributors to help uncover the roots of this deadly epidemic and protect American families and communities ravaged by this public health crisis,” Healey said.
Opioid distributors alone make nearly $500 billion a year in revenue, according to Schneiderman’s office.
The drug distributors that now are the target of the expanded investigation are likewise facing battles in the courtroom. The Cherokee Nation in June named those distributors in its complaint alleging that the companies illegally inundated the Nation with the dangerous drugs.
In addition to Healey, Connecticut AG George Jepsen, Georgia GC Chris Carr and Vermont AG TJ Donovan are among the 41 AGs in the coalition.
New York’s investigation is being conducted by Assistant Attorneys General Carol Hunt, Christopher Leung and Sara Mark of the health care bureau, under the supervision of bureau chief Lisa Landau, counsel to the Medicaid fraud control unit Jay Speers and Special Assistant Attorneys General Kathryn Harris and Elizabeth Kappakas of the Medicaid fraud control unit, under the supervision of director Amy Held and Assistant Deputy Attorney General Paul J. Mahoney, the AG’s office said.