By Seth Daniel
Special to the Gazette
Attorney General Maura Healey announced recently that her office has expanded an ongoing investigation into the marketing and sale of opioids to include multiple manufacturers of branded painkillers and three major drug distributors, but her entrance into the suit came a little too late for some in the neighborhood.
As part of a 39-member bipartisan coalition of attorneys general, AG Healey said she is investigating whether drug-makers sought to increase profits by misrepresenting the dangers of prescription painkillers and ignoring the public health risks of spiking opioid sales. The suit began with attorneys general in Ohio and Kentucky many months ago.
George Stergios, president of the Worcester Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA), said he would have liked to see action sooner, and he hopes that the pressure on companies like Purdue Pharma – major donors to philanthropic causes like museums – would redirect their money from the fine arts to the less-finer opiate epidemic.
“I wonder what has taken so long,” he said. “Whether these companies did something explicitly criminal, they certainly made a lot of money by unleashing a huge and ugly crisis on the U.S. And I imagine that some of them are now making money supplying and distributing the Methadone and Suboxone that are needed to treat the addicts they created. Healey and others should at least be able to shame Purdue to redirect its extensive philanthropy programs away from art museums, libraries, and medical research to treating the lives they destroyed to accumulate the money they needed to name buildings and programs after themselves.”
Libraries and museums at institutions like Oxford University, Tufts University and Harvard University – to name a few – carry the names of the Sackler brothers – doctors who owned and developed Purdue Pharma into a pharmaceutical pain management giant.
“Why can’t we house the homeless at the Sackler Museum at Harvard?” he questioned.
Mayor Martin Walsh said he commended Healey’s move to create accountability from manufacturers and distributors.
“Abuse of opioids often quickly morphs into use of drugs like heroin,” he said. “Drug use doesn’t discriminate, and we as a society need to address the prevalence of opioids. As Boston continues to provide services and outreach to those suffering from substance use disorders, I commend Attorney General Healey for her work to create more accountability around opioids.”
AG Healey is investigating the following companies:
The coalition of attorneys general is using its investigative tools, including subpoenas for documents, to determine what role the opioid manufacturers and distributors may have played in creating or prolonging this epidemic.
“We deserve to hear from these drug-makers what they knew about the addictive and deadly nature of opioid painkillers, and whether they misrepresented those risks in order to increase corporate profits,” said Healey. “We are expanding our investigation into opioid manufacturers and distributors to help uncover the roots of this deadly epidemic and protect American families and communities ravaged by this public health crisis.”
This expanded investigation builds upon AG Healey’s ongoing work with a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general nationwide, announced in June, to evaluate whether manufacturers have engaged in unlawful practices in the marketing and sale of opioids. AG Healey’s office is leading multiple facets of the expanded multistate investigation. The previously announced investigation focused exclusively on Purdue Pharma and has now been extended to the other manufacturers.
The attorneys general are also seeking documents and information about distribution practices from McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen, who collectively manage approximately 90 percent of the nation’s opioid distribution. The investigation into distributors centers on whether these companies properly tracked and reported suspicious orders of controlled substances.
Nationwide and in Massachusetts, opioid overdose deaths have skyrocketed. In 2015, opioids were involved in 33,091 deaths across the country. Opioid overdoses have quadrupled nationwide since 1999.
In Massachusetts, opioid overdoses kill on average more than five people every day. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) estimates that more than 2,000 people – the highest number ever recorded in the state and a 17 percent increase from 2015 – died from opioid-related overdoses in 2016. Massachusetts has lost more than 5,000 people to opioid overdoses in the last three years.