Shapiro details massive, multistate probe into drug companies’ role in opioid crisis

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Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, flanked by people whose loved ones have been addicted to opioids, announces new details of a 41-state investigation into the role of pharmaceutical companies in the opioid epidemic. (Laura Banshoff/WHYY)

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, flanked by people whose loved ones have been addicted to opioids, announces new details of a 41-state investigation into the role of pharmaceutical companies in the opioid epidemic. (Laura Banshoff/WHYY)

Standing on the turf of Upper Dublin High School’s football field, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro drew the connection between prescription pills and the current opioid epidemic by introducing Joe Lubowitz.

Lubowitz, in his late 20s, used to be a three-sport athlete in the district.

“I played on these fields and in these facilities, behind you. And one pill changed that.”

Now in long-term recovery, Lubowitz said it was easy to get the prescription painkillers that eventually led him to heroin.

The sports field was merely a scenic backdrop for an investigation that’s been going on behind the scenes. In June, 41 attorneys general kicked off a probe into whether drug companies break the law in the ways they present and sell opioid painkillers.

On Tuesday, officials named the companies under investigation, several of which have business offices spread across the Philadelphia region.

The five manufacturers under investigation include Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, with North American headquarters in North Wales, Pennsylvania; Endo Industries, with a U.S. headquarters in Malvern, Pennsylvania; and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, with offices in Horsham, Pennsylvania, as well as Titusville and Raritan, New Jersey. Investigators also named Cephalon Inc., which Teva took over in 2011, as a target. The state attorneys named three medical distributors as well, among them AmerisourceBergen, headquartered in Chesterbrook, Pennsylvania.

All 41 state prosecutors have signed on to look into Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin, while 38 vow to investigate all of the companies.

At stake is whether these companies misled the public and doctors about the drugs they make and sell. This week, investigators subpoenaed documents related to the “development of opioid drugs, the result of those clinical trials, communication with physicians and consumers and internal discussions about regulatory and legal compliance,” said Shapiro.

Local targets responded to requests for comment, with varying degrees of acknowledgement of the investigation itself.

A spokeswoman for Endo said that the company would not comment on pending litigation, while Teva and AmerisourceBergen media liaisons called the investigation an opportunity to work more closely with law enforcement and regulators to address the opioid epidemic.

“We welcome the opportunity to educate the attorney general coalition on our role in the health care supply chain,” said Lauren Moyer, director of external relations with AmerisourceBergen.

It’s not yet clear whether this investigation will lead to legal action, although attorneys general from Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio have independently sued some of the same drug manufacturers, alleging they knowingly downplayed the addictive capacity of their products.

After his remarks, Shapiro opened his mic to the public. Carpenter Benji Eisenstein approached with a snapshot of his daughter.

“I have 13 years in recovery, without a drink or a drug. I work two days a week at Livengrin Foundation [a treatment provider],” he said. “Yet I couldn’t save my daughter. Christmas Day, she died of an overdose.”

When asked what he thought about going after drug companies, Eisenstein said there’s a lot of blame to go around, but none of it will bring his daughter back.

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