While he offered few details, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Thursday that his office is taking a lead role in a multistate investigation into the sales and marketing of opioid pain pills.
The prescription drugs are linked to an epidemic of abuse that shows no signs of abating, and state officials have been ramping up the legal pressure on pharmaceutical companies that make and market the pills.
Shapiro declined to say when the multistate investigation began or where it will lead, noting at one point that he purposefully omitted mention of either a civil or criminal case.
He characterized the investigation as involving a bipartisan majority of states, but declined to name them. A Democrat, he also declined to name the companies under investigation.
“Pennsylvania has been a leader in the ongoing national bipartisan investigation into the marketing and sale of opioid pain pills,” Shapiro said at a news conference Thursday in the state capital.
Attorneys general in other states, most recently Ohio, have sued pharmaceutical companies they say should take responsibility for the damage caused by opioid abuse, considered a main driver in overdose deaths nationwide. Counties and towns also have piled on.
In Pennsylvania, Shapiro said, 4,642 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, up 37 percent from 2015.
“Three out of four heroin users started by abusing prescription opioids, and our ongoing investigation is going straight into the boardrooms of pharmaceutical companies,” Shapiro said in a statement. “We will follow the evidence to hold every person and every company responsible for this tragedy accountable on behalf of Pennsylvanians.”
The move reflects a burst of activism among attorneys general on a range of issues, from climate change to immigration.
Republican attorneys general were among the top opponents of former President Barack Obama’s climate change policies, while their Democratic counterparts have challenged President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
Officials from both parties, however, appear intent on challenging opioid manufacturers. Ohio’s attorney general, Mike DeWine, is a Republican.
A presidential commission also is examining the opioid epidemic in the U.S.
The latter move was welcomed by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, an industry trade group.
“The public health crisis resulting from abuse of heroin and prescription opioids is complex and far-reaching, impacting communities and families around the country,” the group said in a statement in March when the commission was formed. “PhRMA is committed to working with the administration and other stakeholders on ways we can collectively work together to help prevent and combat prescription drug abuse.”