Attorneys general from a majority of U.S. states are investigating major pharmaceutical companies and their distributors over the worsening opioid crisis ravaging communities across the country.
Forty-one state attorneys general are demanding answers from drug manufacturers detailing their medications and marketing practices as part of their efforts to determine what role pharmaceutical companies may have played in the current addiction epidemic. The bipartisan group announced Tuesday in New York that they jointly filed subpoenas served to Endo International, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd./Cephalon Inc. and Allergan Inc., reports USA Today.
Officials also served subpoenas to AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson, seeking information on their distribution methods for opioid painkillers. Opioid distributors are estimated to rake in nearly $500 billion in annual revenue. A supplemental investigative subpoena was also served against Purdue Pharma, the manufacturers of the painkiller OxyContin.
“Too often, prescription opioids are the on-ramp to addiction for millions of Americans,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, said in a statement Tuesday, according to USA Today. “We’re committed to getting to the bottom of a broken system that has fueled the epidemic and taken far too many lives.”
The pharmaceutical industry says they are committed to curbing rates of opioid abuse and helping the federal government ultimately solve the addiction epidemic. The major companies, which are facing a growing number of lawsuits from states and localities across the country, generally deny allegations of complicity in the opioid epidemic.
Representatives of Purdue Pharma submitted legal filings against a lawsuit from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican, launched in May, advising the lawsuit should be dismissed for a litany of reasons including its contradiction of federal drug regulations. They note the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of their medications.
They also argue the lawsuit fails to identify specific cases of harm caused to patients as a direct result of Purdue’s marketing of OxyContin.
DeWine explicitly likens pharmaceutical companies to big tobacco during the 1990s in the lawsuit, when states won a $206 billion settlement from the companies for misleading the public about the dangers of cigarettes for decades. Experts caution against drawing comparisons between the two, noting the stark difference between a voluntary practice such as smoking and taking drugs recommended by doctors and approved by the FDA.
While the negative health impacts of cigarettes are widely accepted, opinions differ on opioids due to their medical application.
Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse released Sept. 7 paints a grim outlook for the current opioid crisis ravaging American communities. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under 50.
The study predicts the addiction epidemic in America will continue to deteriorate, pushing drug deaths to an estimated 71,600 in 2017. If the estimates prove accurate, 2017 will be the second year in a row that drug deaths surpass U.S. casualties from the Vietnam War.
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