Attorneys general from 41 states will investigate companies over alleged fraudulent marketing and distribution of painkillers

A multistate investigation has been launched in the US to determine whether manufacturers and distributors illegally marketed and dispensed prescription opioid drugs.

Attorneys general from 41 US states have combined to scrutinise major opioid makers Endo, Teva, Allergan, Purdue and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson’s pharma subsidiary), as well as several drug distributors. The probe comes amid allegations that these companies used fraudulent marketing to sell opioids and fuelled a national epidemic. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates opioid overdoses kill 91 Americans each day.

Typically, attorneys general would not confirm or deny an active investigation. However, Kansas attorney general Derek Schmidt publicly disclosed his involvement because of ‘the unique and multi-faceted nature of prescription opioid misuse, the heightened public scrutiny and policy discussions surrounding it’. In a separate letter, the Attorneys general urged America’s Health Insurance Plans, the trade association that represents insurance companies, to tweak its policies to ‘prioritise non-opioid pain management options over opioid prescriptions for the treatment of chronic, non-cancer pain’.

Concerns about opioid addiction have stimulated new regulatory and political action. Last year, Endo terminated its licencing deal for Belbuca (buprenorphine), and in June withdrew Opana ER (oxymorphone) from the market at the request of the US Food and Drug Administration. In July generic drugmaker Mallinckrodt paid $35 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the US Department of Justice that accused the company of failing to properly detect and notify the US Drug Enforcement Agency of suspicious opioid orders.