Alaska officials looking into lawsuit against opioid drugmakers

Prescribing of oxycodone and other opioid pain pills rose sharply after 2000.
(Photo by John Moore, Getty Images)

The State of Alaska is looking into whether it should sue the manufacturers of opioid painkillers for their contributions to the opioid epidemic and has hired a law firm that is representing two other states in related legal action.

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Those lawsuits, brought by South Carolina and New Hampshire, target Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. The plaintiff states allege the company contributed to a drastic and costly increase in opioid abuse by misrepresenting the risk of addiction posed by the widely-prescribed pain pill.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker declared the state’s opioid epidemic a disaster in February. Now, the state appears interested in getting back some of the funds it has spent fighting the epidemic.

State officials are not saying yet what the likelihood is of actually pursuing such a lawsuit, but it hired the law firm Motley Rice earlier this summer to examine the viability of bringing forward a case.

Cori Mills, with the state Department of Law, said Monday the state is interested in recouping some of its costs in fighting the epidemic, as well as correcting any bad practices on the part of the pharmaceutical companies.

“We’re going to look into it,” Mills said. “It’ll be thoroughly vetted, and then if we do end up deciding that a lawsuit can be filed and that a lawsuit is viable, then we’ll file that, and that’ll be a public document. But until then, there is no further information we can disclose on the investigation.”

Pharmaceutical companies have denied they did anything wrong, citing Food and Drug Administration approval and the legally mandated warnings featured on the drugs.

In 2007, Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to misleading consumers and paid a fine of $600 million to the U.S. government.

Mills said there is no timeline for when a decision might be made on pursuing a lawsuit. She said the state’s contract with Motley Rice is on a contingency fee basis, meaning the state pays no money up front and the law firm would get a portion of any settlement or judgment later.