TOPEKA – Kansas is part of multi-state investigations of companies that manufacture and distribute prescription opioid drugs, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced on Sept. 19.
Schmidt said his office is one of 41 state attorneys general participating in the joint investigations. This week, the investigating offices escalated the investigations by subpoenaing or otherwise demanding information and documents from both manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioid drugs. The first of the investigations began last year.
“Today (Sept. 19) I am taking the unusual step of announcing investigations that are ongoing,” said Schmidt, who noted that the ordinary practice of his office is to neither confirm nor deny whether an investigation exists. “Because of the unique and multi-faceted nature of prescription opioid misuse, the heightened public scrutiny and policy discussions surrounding it, the decisions by several other state attorneys general to discuss publicly their separate individual enforcement actions, the decision by our multi-state working group to publicly confirm our investigation, and the reality that public awareness of this problem is an important component in addressing it, I have concluded it is in the public interest to confirm that Kansas has been and remains part of this broad-based, bipartisan, coordinated investigation.”
Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates opioid overdoses kill 91 Americans every day. According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, pharmaceutical opioids are a leading cause of drug poisoning deaths in Kansas. The CDC says the number of opioid prescriptions has quadrupled since 1999, despite Americans reporting a steady amount of pain.
“By working together with the vast majority of other states, we can help ensure these investigations are thorough, focused and properly coordinated,” Schmidt said. “As with any similar investigation, we will methodically determine what evidence is available and follow wherever the evidence leads. If the evidence shows illegal conduct, we will take appropriate enforcement action.”
Schmidt said he would not discuss the specific companies that are targets of the multi-state investigations at this time nor would he characterize the status of the investigations or what they have found to date.
In a related action, Schmidt announced yesterday he is among the leaders of a bipartisan group of 37 attorneys general who are asking insurance companies to alter their payment practices to reduce the incentive for doctors to prescribe opioids for pain relief. The over-prescription of opioid drugs is a significant contributing factor in their misuse. For eight years, Kansas law enforcement has participated twice yearly in the prescription Drug Take-Back initiative, which encourages people to clean out medicine cabinets and bring unwanted or unneeded prescriptions, including opioids, to drop-off sites for safe destruction. To date, that program alone has collected and safely destroyed nearly 59 tons of excess medications in Kansas, and some law enforcement agencies and pharmacies have begun offering secure drop-off sites year around.
Schmidt also noted that Kansas last year filed suit against the manufacturer of the drug Suboxone, which is used to counteract the effects of opioid overdoses. In that lawsuit, which is ongoing in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Kansas and the other plaintiffs allege that the defendants took anticompetitive action to keep generic competitors off the market.
“The overall public health harm caused by prescription opioid misuse requires far more than a law enforcement response,” Schmidt said. “But enforcement is an important component, and we are focused on doing our part.”