New Mexico Sues Drugmakers, Distributors Over Opioid Crisis

By Sara Randazzo Features Dow Jones Newswires

New Mexico sued several major pharmaceutical companies and wholesale drug distributors on Thursday, arguing the corporations are partly to blame for rampant opioid addiction rates in the state.

Continue Reading Below

The lawsuit, filed in state court in Santa Fe County, follows the lead of half a dozen other states that have also sued over the opioid crisis. All claim pharmaceutical companies played down the addictive risk of the painkillers in their marketing to the public and doctors, causing them to be widely prescribed for chronic pain and fueling addiction.

Most of the other states to sue, including New Hampshire, South Carolina, Ohio and Oklahoma, have focused their claims solely on the pharmaceutical companies. Dozens of cities and counties, meanwhile, have filed litigation against distributors, claiming they unlawfully sold painkillers into the regions and failed to monitor and report suspicious orders.

New Mexico is going after both camps.

Thursday's suit names drugmakers Purdue Pharma L.P., Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., Johnson & Johnson, Endo International PLC and Allergan PLC, distributors AmerisourceBergen Corp., McKesson Corp., and Cardinal Health Inc., and various subsidiaries.

The companies have denied liability in the mounting litigation while stressing that they support the proper use of opioids. Teva, Endo, J&J and Purdue each said Thursday they are committed to working to prevent misuse of the drugs. J&J and Purdue added that they deny the allegations.

Continue Reading Below

AmerisourceBergen said Thursday it will defend itself against the claims and reiterated a previous statement that wholesale drug distributors are logistics companies that don't make the drugs or have any direct contact with patients or prescriptions. McKesson and Cardinal didn't respond to a request for comment Thursday but have made similar statements to that of AmerisourceBergen in the past.

The state's attorney general, Hector Balderas, said Thursday that safeguards along the entire pipeline of drug distribution have failed, making it necessary to sue drugmakers and distributors. "We've been decimated by their profiteering and the risk associated with these painkillers," he said.

The lawsuit brings claims under public nuisance, unfair practices, Medicaid fraud, racketeering, fraud against taxpayers and negligence laws.

Since 2008, New Mexico has had one of the highest rates of drug overdose death in the U.S., according to the complaint. More than 500 New Mexico residents die each year from drug overdoses, the state says, around 70% of those from prescription opioids or heroin.

In Rio Arriba County, 64 out of every 1,000 babies born -- 10 times the national average -- are diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome, caused by exposure to opioids while in the womb, according to the complaint.

Widespread prescription opioid addiction has led to record overdose rates nationwide, causing alarm among public-health officials, law enforcement and politicians. Those who become addicted to prescription pills often switch to illegal opioids, like heroin, when the painkillers become harder to come by.

Mr. Balderas, a Democrat, said he began his investigation soon after taking office in 2015. He said he hopes through the litigation to require any companies selling or bringing opioids into the state to put money toward drug treatment, law enforcement and first responders.

The state estimates it spent $890 million in 2007 alone on costs associated with prescription opioid abuse, including through excess medical costs, lost earnings from premature deaths and costs tied to correctional facilities and police.

Write to Sara Randazzo at sara.randazzo@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 07, 2017 18:55 ET (22:55 GMT)