Combating New York’s Opioid Epidemic

Holding Opioid Manufacturers and Distributors Responsible

In March 2019, Attorney General James filed the nation’s most extensive lawsuit against multiple pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors for their role in perpetrating the opioid epidemic that has ravaged New York, caused widespread addiction, taken hundreds of thousands of lives nationwide, and devastated millions of families and communities across the country.

The defendants in the suit included Purdue Pharma, its affiliates, and the Sackler family; Janssen Pharmaceuticals and its affiliates (including its parent company Johnson & Johnson); Mallinckrodt LLC and its affiliates; Endo Health Solutions and its affiliates; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. and its affiliates; and Allergan Finance, LLC and its affiliates. The distributors named in the complaint are McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health Inc., Amerisource Bergen Drug Corporation, and Rochester Drug Cooperative Inc. 

These drug companies contributed to the creation of the opioid crisis by pushing a false narrative that opioids are a safe, low-risk option for pain relief, while turning a blind eye to reckless over prescription.

A trial is set for March 2020, during which the deadly scheme perpetrated by these companies will be presented in open court and laid bare before the American people.

Facilitating Access to Life-Saving Opioid Overdose Drug

In January 2020, Attorney General James negotiated an agreement with Emergent BioSolutions — manufacturers of the successful opioid overdose reversal nasal spray NARCAN — in an effort to increase opportunity for additional companies to utilize the patented, proprietary spray technology that allows for life-saving drugs to be easily administered to patients.

While naloxone has been used for decades by first responders and others for the emergency treatment of known or suspected opioid overdoses, a naloxone nasal spray — branded as NARCAN — was created in 2016. NARCAN’s nasal spray device makes it a convenient, non-invasive option that can be used safely, easily, effectively, and without risk by any person without any sort of medical training.

An investigation by the Office of the Attorney General revealed that Emergent’s predecessor entered into a contract with the manufacturer of the nasal spray device used in NARCAN. This contract may have had the effect of restricting the nasal spray device manufacturer from supplying similar devices to other companies attempting to develop their own nasal nalmefene product — potentially impeding the development of additional life-saving drugs.

Given the tragic and devastating effects of the opioid crisis, and the urgent need for additional drugs for the emergency treatment of opioid overdoses, Attorney General James worked to circumvent unnecessary impediments to the development of additional life-saving opioid overdose reversal drugs. After Attorney General James laid out her concerns, Emergent and the Office of the Attorney General came to an agreement that would ensure Emergent no longer enforces the terms of the previously negotiated exclusivity contract. Additionally, the agreement ensured Emergent renegotiates the contract with its nasal spray device manufacturer. As a result, today, more companies can gain access to these nasal spray devices.

I-STOP and Enhanced Protections Against Opioid Overprescribing

New York created the nation’s first “Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing,” or “I-STOP” to reduce opioid overprescribing through the efforts of the New York State Attorney General’s Office. 

The goal of I-STOP is to enable doctors and pharmacists to provide prescription pain medications and other controlled substances to only patients who truly need them. At the same time, the program gives these doctors and pharmacists the necessary data to detect potentially dangerous drug interactions; identify patterns of abuse by patients, doctors, and pharmacists; aid those who suffer from crippling addictions; and prevent potential addiction before it starts. I-STOP also vastly expanded safe disposal programs so that New Yorkers have a safe way to dispose of expired and unneeded drugs. The importance of these protections is seen every day throughout the state.

Since I-STOP went into effect in 2013, incidents of “doctor shopping” — the practice of visiting several different doctors and pharmacies to obtain multiple prescription drugs — have been reduced by over 90 percent. In doing so, the number of opioid prescriptions issued in New York has dropped by more than one million each year. This represents tens of millions of potentially dangerous pills that never hit the street or even found their way into medicine cabinets, as well as millions of taxpayer dollars that never had to be spent on unnecessary medications.

Along with enhancements to the state’s prescription drug monitoring program, the t I-STOP also converted all New York State prescriptions to electronic prescriptions. This new e-prescribing system has eliminated the problem of stolen and forged prescriptions that, in the past, had been used to obtain controlled substances from pharmacies. Further, electronic prescriptions have helped obtain significant savings for both public and private health insurance programs and facilities by providing more accurate prescriptions and faster transmission of prescriptions from a doctor’s office to a patient’s pharmacy.

Urging Congress to Remove Federal Barriers to Treat Opioid Use Disorder

In August 2019, Attorney General James and a bipartisan coalition of 39 attorneys general from around the nation urged Congress to remove federal barriers that are currently preventing health care providers from offering treatment for opioid use disorder. In a letter sent to Congressional leadership, the coalition called for the passage of legislation to: eliminate burdensome requirements that prohibit doctors from prescribing treatment for opioid abuse disorder, replace outdated medical privacy rules, and repeal a rule that prevents Medicaid from covering some forms of treatment.