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Attorney General Cynthia Coffman joins expanded probe into opioid manufacturers, distributors

Author: Ernest Luning - September 19, 2017 - Updated: September 20, 2017

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Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman talks about her accomplishments during an interview on Feb. 24, 2017, at her office in Denver. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman talks with a reporter on Feb. 24, 2017, at her office in Denver. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has joined a broad coalition of attorneys general demanding information from opioid manufacturers and distributors as part of a multi-state investigation into the causes of the painkiller epidemic, her office said Tuesday.

A bipartisan group of 41 attorneys general served subpoenas Monday on Endo Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceuticals/Cephalon, Inc. and Allergan plc, and served a supplemental subpoena on Purdue Pharma, Coffman, a Republican, announced. They also sent letters asking for information from distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson.

The states are investigating whether the industry has engaged in illegal marketing and sales activities that contributed to a surge in opioid prescriptions and drug overdose deaths in recent decades.

“There is no magic bullet to solve this crisis, but I am committed to working with partners throughout Colorado and the country to find a solution,” Coffman said in a written statement. “This investigation is another step in a continuing effort by my office to help those impacted by opioid addiction and to hold accountable those who contributed to this epidemic in violation of Colorado law.”

The investigation could lead to a national settlement with the states if the industry cooperates, and there’s some indication drugmakers and distributors will engage in a discussion about the matter, the Associated Press reported.

Prescription opioids were involved in more than 33,000 deaths nationwide last year — including 300 in Colorado — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. patients receive as many as 200 million opioid prescriptions annually, and sales of the powerful painkillers nearly quadruped between 1999 and 2014, Coffman noted.

“The scourge of opioid addiction has impacted every corner of our state,” she said. “Our doctors, nurses, and first responders have been working tirelessly, oftentimes in dangerous circumstances, to save those battling addiction. Our nonprofits and government agencies have been fighting an uphill battle to help those trapped in the cycle of addiction. And our churches and schools have been shouldering a heavy burden helping to console, counsel, and educate those who’ve lost loved ones, including the children who have been orphaned or abandoned due to this to this deadly epidemic.”

The Healthcare Distribution Alliance said in a statement that it isn’t responsible for the volume of opioid prescriptions but wants to work on solving the public health crisis. In addition, drug industry representative PhRMA declined to comment on the investigation but said it’s s trying to deter and prevent drug abuse, the AP reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.