Ctnewsjunkie file photo
Attorney General George Jepsen (Ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD – Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen took a significant step Tuesday to move forward an investigation over whether drug-makers sought to increase profits by misrepresenting the dangers of prescription opioids and ignoring the public health risks.

Jepsen and 38 attorneys general from across the country demanded information and documents from pharmaceutical manufacturers Endo International plc; Janssen Pharmaceuticals; Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd./Cephalon Inc.; and Allergan Inc.

The attorneys general are also seeking documents and information about distribution practices from AmerisourceBergen; Cardinal Health; and McKesson. Those three companies control 90 percent of the opioid distribution in the country.

The number of state’s top lawyers participating, and the bipartisanship it brings, represents a dramatic expansion and coordination of the investigations by the into the nationwide opioid epidemic.

“While some states have taken individual legal actions, the overwhelming majority of attorneys general, from both parties and all parts of the country, have now agreed to work together to investigate the marketing, distribution and sale of opioids, and to take further coordinated legal action as appropriate,” Jepsen said.

A previously announced investigation by a coalition of attorneys general focused exclusively on Purdue Pharma. In addition to extending the investigation to these additional manufacturers, the attorneys general have also served a supplemental investigative demand on Purdue Pharma.

The coordinated action comes a few weeks after Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit stating manufacturers used sales representatives and advertising to downplay the risks associated with opiates, which has led to a rapid increase in prescription drug and heroin addiction across Ohio.

Opioids – both prescription and illicit – are the main driver of drug overdose deaths nationwide and in Connecticut. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were involved in 33,091 deaths in 2015, and opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999. The Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is projecting that more than 1,000 people will die of opioid-related overdoses in Connecticut in 2017.

“If there have been violations of law, we will find them and work aggressively to address them, Jepsen said.

“We also recognize that time is our enemy and that we should pursue all means to ease this crisis as quickly as possible. For that reason, we have encouraged, and will continue to encourage, the pharmaceutical industry – both manufacturers and distributors – to engage constructively with the attorneys general towards meaningful agreements that may be achievable sooner than full scale investigations and litigation may permit,” Jepsen added.

The 39 attorneys general participating in the overall multistate investigations are organized into subgroups focusing on manufacturers and distributors. Connecticut is taking a leadership role in the subgroup focusing on opioid distributors and is also participating with respect to the investigation of manufacturers.

The investigation follows a lawsuit filed by the city of Waterbury against 11 pharmaceutical companies.

That complaint states that the pharmaceutical companies “knew or should have known that, with prolonged use, the effectiveness of opioids wanes, requiring increases in doses to achieve pain relief and markedly increasing the risk of significant side effects and addiction.

In total, from 2002 through 2015, opioid overdose deaths, including heroin, have risen 280 percent in the U.S., according to findings from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

States, counties, and municipalities have filed similar lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies.