The New York Department of Financial Services has announced that it will be issuing dozens of subpoenas to individuals and companies associated with the pharmaceutical opioid industry.
State Governor Andrew Cuomo did not mince words when referring to the pharmaceutical companies’ tendency to obscure their products’ highly addictive nature. “I’ve seen a number of schemes and frauds, but the opioid scheme is as diabolical, as brazen, as obnoxious and as offensive as anything I’ve seen,” he commented on Tuesday.
Last year, the state’s attorney general sued Purdue Pharma, and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has sued the Sackler family of opioid kingpins who own Purdue, in addition to bringing charges against national chain pharmacies who made millions from hocking Oxycontin.
With this latest round of subpoenas, the governor hopes to initiate proceedings that will recoup over $2 billion that New Yorkers were overcharged in health care premiums as a result of insurance industry fraud.
His announcement comes on the heels of the first major ruling against pharmaceutical companies for their role in creating the US opioid crisis. In August, a judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million for its role in the death of the 6,000 Oklahomans who have died as a result of opioid misuse. The company released a statement saying that it would appeal the judgement, whose cash sum would go to fund addiction-fighting programs in the state of Oklahoma.
The US Department of Health and Human Services says that 400,000 people have died nationwide from opioid overdose over the last 20 years. While numbers appear to have dropped between 2017 and 2018, the agency did recommend that the country focus on improving resources for addiction, and bolstering research in the area of opioid abuse.
Across the country, various tactics are being used to counteract the opioid epidemic. In Chicago, a pharmacist has launched a delivery service for naloxone, a drug that can be administered in the case of an overdose. Last week, a $2 billion grant program was announced that will go to fund treatment access and a system to track the size of the opioid epidemic.
Some cannabis advocates have long held that marijuana can play a role in reducing opioid addiction, although states like Rhode Island and Iowa have declined to add opioid addiction to their lists of qualifying conditions for their medical marijuana programs. In New York, the New York State Assembly filed a near-unanimous approval for a bill that would add opioid addiction to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis.
But a recent study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that states that have legalized marijuana have actually seen an uptick in the rate of opioid deaths. Of course, these trends could be influenced by outside factors. Indeed, in May, the American Journal of Psychiatry released a study that showed that cannabis could reduce heroin cravings in addicts. In May, the journal Preventative Medicine published another investigation that suggests that medical marijuana legalization has led to lower rates of opioid prescriptions.