By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
A bipartisan coalition of 41 state attorneys general including Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, is seeking documents and information from opioid manufacturers and distributions as part of an investigation into the opioid epidemic.
Marshall on Tuesday announced the subpoenas, which are being sent to manufacturers Endo, Jannsen, Teva, Cephalon and Allergan. Other demands are being sent to Purdue Pharma and distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson. The subpoenas, called Civil Investigative Demands, request documents and information about their opioid production and distribution practices, which the coalition believes could be criminal or negligent.
“Our investigation continues as we seek information from drug manufacturers and distributors to help determine whether they engaged in unlawful practices in the marketing, sale, and distribution of opioids,” Marshall said.
In June, Marshall announced his plans to participate in the bipartisan group from across the U.S. investigating whether the producers and manufacturers are engaging in illegal marketing and sales tactics.
Opioid overdoses — one of the nation’s fastest-growing causes of deaths and the leading cause of overdose deaths — resulted in more than 33,091 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.
“Opioid abuse has reached a crisis level in Alabama and in many portions of the country, and earlier this year I joined with fellow attorneys general in investigating what role opioid manufacturers may have had in creating or prolonging the opioid abuse epidemic, and to establish the appropriate course of action to help solve this crisis,” Marshall said.
Alabama was in the top five states that reported opioid death increases from 2014 to 2015. More than 736 people died from opioid overdoses in Alabama in 2015. From 2013 to 2014 alone, the State saw a 20 percent increase in opioid overdose fatalities, according to the CDC. Marshall’s office has 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.
That task force was disbanded earlier this summer, and Gov. Kay Ivey last month appointed Marshall to head a new task force — the Alabama Opioid Overdose and Addiction Council — focused on a similar mission of examining the opioid crisis and identifying ways to reduce its harmful impacts.
They met for the first time on Sept. 5.
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.