By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
Attorney General Steve Marshall announced plans Thursday to participate in a bipartisan group of attorneys general from across the US who are investigating whether opioid drug manufacturers are engaging in illegal marketing and sales practices.
Opioid overdoses — one of the nation’s fastest growing causes of deaths —resulted in more than 33,000 deaths nationwide in 2015, which is more than four times the same statistic in 1999. The number now rivals deaths from car accidents and firearms.
“Alabama has disproportionately suffered from prescription painkiller abuse and I have joined with a majority of my fellow Attorneys General to investigate what role opioid manufacturers may have had in creating or prolonging the opioid abuse epidemic,” Marshall said.
Alabama was in the top five states that reported opioid death increases from 2014 to 2015. From 2013 to 2014 alone, the State saw a 20 percent increase in opioid overdose fatalities, according to the CDC. Marshall’s office said opioid abuse remains one of the greatest challenges facing law enforcement in the state.
Seventy-eight people die in the US every day from opioid painkiller overdose, and the Yellowhammer State has the highest rate of painkiller prescribing in the country and one of the highest rates of opioid abuse in the country.
More than 5.8 million opioid prescriptions were issued in Alabama last year, former Gov. Robert Bentley said during a press conference announcing the creation of a task force focused on opioid abuse. In a State with a population of only about 4.8 million, that total amounts to more than 1.2 prescriptions per person.
Opioids are generally prescribed under brand names like Lortab, Oxycontin and Percocet. Those drugs contain hydrocodone, oxycodone and other opioid drugs. Being prescribed opioids is a major risk factor for illegal drugs use and has led to more use of heroin, an extremely addictive, illegal opioid that has extremely high rates of overdose, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
Attorneys general who are part of the new coalition are currently issuing subpoenas for documents and testimony, Marshall said, but would not be identifying any particular targets of that investigation.