A bipartisan group of state attorneys general from Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Texas on Thursday announced joint investigations [press release] into the marketing and sales practices of the manufacturers of opioid painkillers. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey [official website] stated: “The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis that is claiming lives in our state and across the country, and we want to assure our residents that we are doing all that we can to combat it.” In Massachusetts the crisis claims more than five lives a day. The coalition of attorneys have not released the identities of the specific targets of the investigation at this point, but have begun issuing subpoenas for documents and gathering testimonial evidence. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan [official website] stated [press release]: “I want to know whether drug companies, seeking higher profits, have recklessly and unlawfully pushed addictive opioids.” Madigan has experience going after opioid manufacturers. In 2016 she filed suit [Complaint, PDF] against Insys Therapeutics [corporate website] for deceptively marketing an addictive opioid in an attempt to increase profits. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton [official website] added [press release]: “This is a public safety and public health issue. Opioid painkiller abuse and related overdoses are devastating families here in Texas and throughout the country,”
This development follows Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine‘s [official website] decision [NPR interview, transcript] to file suit [JURIST report] late last month against five drug manufacturers for misrepresenting the risks of opioids. The crisis has risen to the level of a national epidemic in recent years, in turn eliciting a variety of responses from different authorities across the nation. In March President Donald Trump [official profile] signed an executive order [JURIST report] establishing a task force to combat the opioid crisis. This would not be the first time that opioid drug manufacturers have found themselves in trouble with the law. In July 2007 the US District Court for the Western District of Virginia [official website] sentenced [NYT report] three former executives of the Purdue Frederick Company [corporate website], manufacturer of painkiller OxyContin [FDA materials], to three years of probation and 400 hours of community service in drug treatment programs. The three executives, including former president Michael Friedman, former chief in-house counsel Howard Udell, and former medical director Paul Goldenheim, all pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in May 2007 to a misdemeanor offense of misbranding a drug. Prosecutors had alleged that the company and executives were aware in 1995 that doctors were concerned about the drug’s high addiction risk, but its sales representatives continued to misrepresent OxyContin’s effects to physicians. Purdue Frederick agreed to pay $634.5 million in fines for its role in misleading the public. OxyContin, which is a Schedule II controlled substance [DOJ backgrounder], has become increasingly abused because its time-release mechanism can be easily disrupted for illicit use.