New Mexico suing opioid makers, distributors

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Attorney General Hector Balderas is joined by Española Mayor Alice Lucero and Steve Paternoster in announcing the state's lawsuit against opioid pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico is now the eighth state to sue the largest pharmaceutical opioid makers and distributors, hoping to win settlements that will fund law enforcement and treatment in a state historically ranked as hardest hit by opioid addiction and overdose.

The suit joins dozens from counties, including one filed and one pending county suit in New Mexico, towns and private attorneys in more than half of all states and the Cherokee Nation.

The lawsuits claim the manufacturing companies knew their drugs were highly addictive but downplayed that in tricky advertising and sales pitches to doctors, contributing to a flood of opioid-based pain killers reaching  patients.

“These pharmaceutical companies aggressively advertised to and persuaded doctors to prescribe highly addictive, dangerous opioids, turn(ing) patients into drug addicts for their own corporate profit,” New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas claims in his lawsuit, filed in 1st Judicial District Court in Santa Fe on Thursday.

The suit targets the same five main manufacturers and associated companies targeted in other state lawsuits: OxyContin distributor Purdue Pharma, fentanyl-type drug distributor Johnson and Johnson, Percocet distributor Endo Health Solutions, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, which make and sells opioids Actiq and Fentora, and Actavis, which sells generic versions of these drugs.

The suit says that “from 2000 through 2017, state Medicaid spent at least $72.8 million for opioid pain medications,” including those from the defendants.

Purdue spokesman John Puskar denied the allegations but shares “public officials’ concerns about the opioid crisis and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions.”

Balderas’ suit also lays blame on the distribution companies, claiming “the sheer volume of prescription opioids distributed to pharmacies (here) is excessive for the medical need of the community and facially suspicious.”

In response, Healthcare Distribution Alliance industry group told the Journal that distributors aren’t in a position to regulate opioid prescribing but are “logistics companies that arrange for the safe and secure storage, transport, and delivery of medicine….”

“Given our role, the idea that distributors are solely responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions … lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and how it is regulated,” wrote the Alliance’s John Parker.

The other states with similar suits or pending suits, as of Thursday, were Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Carolina. The Cherokee Nation’s lawsuit more specifically targets pharmacies and distributors.

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