Kentucky Joins Multi-State Investigation Into Opioid Manufacturers

By Kelly Burch 06/22/17

State officials have not publicly discussed which opioid manufacturers are being targeted by the massive investigation.

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear
Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear announced Kentucky's involvement in the investigation on Wednesday. Photo via YouTube

At least 23 states and Washington, D.C. have come together to investigate opioid manufacturers, particularly around deceptive marketing practices that may have overstated the benefits of opioid painkillers while downplaying their addictive qualities. 

"The people peddling the drugs ripping apart our towns aren't only on our street corners. Three out of four heroin users started by abusing prescription opioids, and our ongoing investigation is going straight into the boardrooms of pharmaceutical companies. We will follow the evidence to hold every person and every company responsible for this tragedy accountable,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement.

The bipartisan effort includes Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Vermont, Illinois, Texas, Georgia, Connecticut, South Dakota, Rhode Island, Alabama, Virginia, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Colorado, Indiana, Delaware, Iowa, North Carolina, Oklahoma, New York, California, Maine and now, Kentucky.

Kentucky's Attorney General Andy Beshear wrote in a news release, "The single greatest threat to Kentucky is our drug epidemic. The crisis is killing our family and friends—it is the main source of crime in our communities and it is preventing job and economic growth."

There was no information available on which opioid manufacturers may be targeted by the investigation. 

“The multi-state effort is months in the making, according to people familiar with the matter, and subpoenas have already been issued against some targets,” The Wall Street Journal reported. “The probe is in the investigatory stage and could lead to litigation, though such investigations can be protracted and don’t necessarily lead to lawsuits in every instance.” 

A lawsuit, however, wouldn’t be surprising. Last year, more than 20 U.S. states, counties and cities sued pharmaceutical companies including Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma, and McKesson, claiming they fueled a public health crisis with misleading marketing and aggressive distribution of opioids, according to Bloomberg News.

Steve Berman is a lawyer aiding the states. He previously helped negotiate a $246 billion tobacco settlement in 1998. He says that a lawsuit is a way for governments to help cover the cost of the opioid epidemic.

“The costs of this opioid crisis are more severe for governmental entities than those posed by tobacco,” said Berman. “States and cities are getting slammed with opioid-dependence costs that are a much more immediate threat than long-term illnesses tied to tobacco.”

Attorney General Shapiro, of Pennsylvania, also hoped that the investigation would be a small step toward healing for people touched by addiction. 

“I’ve seen the pain caused by this crisis and heard from families that have been torn apart,” he said. “To everyone touched by this epidemic, who has felt the wave of overdose deaths and dealt with the pain of addiction in your family and in your town: we’re fighting back for you.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.