SANTA FE, N.M. — The New Mexico attorney general’s office accused major manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioid medication of exacerbating the state’s drug crisis by falsely downplaying addiction risks and failing to monitor suspect prescriptions, in a lawsuit filed Thursday in state district court.
Attorney General Hector Balderas said the lawsuit against five of the nation’s largest opioid manufacturers and three major wholesale distributors was designed to redirect private profits to help the state cope with a ravaging prescription drug epidemic.
The lawsuit accused opioid manufacturers of aggressively pushing highly addictive and dangerous pain-relief medication and falsely representing to doctors that patients would rarely succumb to addiction. It accuses distributors of failing to monitor, investigate and report suspicious orders of prescription opiates.
“Drug companies have refused to acknowledge how addictive these drugs that they pedal really are,” Balderas said.
The state’s top prosecutor said the lawsuit is modeled after past litigation against tobacco companies in an effort to tap into drug company profits to offset expenses for drug treatment and law enforcement.
“Like big tobacco decades ago, opiate manufacturer-distributors have taken no responsibility for investing in the safety net,” Balderas said at a news conference in Albuquerque. “I’m hoping that will change.”
Accidental drug overdose deaths in New Mexico have hovered well above the national average, even as the state has implemented pioneering policies to rein in fatalities.
The state was the first in 2001 to increase access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone. This year, New Mexico became the first to require that law enforcement agencies to provide officers with antidote kits.
Doctor-endorsed prescriptions were unlikely to shield drug companies against the lawsuit, Balderas said. “I’m confident that we’re going to prove unreasonable levels of opiate distribution in some of our small rural communities,” he said.
A string of recent lawsuits across the U.S. by state, county and local governments have accused prescription opioid manufacturers of fraud and deceptive marketing.
Two local governments within New Mexico — metropolitan Bernalillo and rural Mora counties — are in the process of suing opioid manufacturers, seeking changes in marketing and prescription practices as well as cash to help cover costs.