AG gets final approval to investigate deceptive drug marketing

  • FILE - This Feb. 19, 2013, file photo, shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. Prescription painkillers should not be a first-choice for treating common ailments like back pain and arthritis, according to new federal guidelines designed to reshape how doctors prescribe drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin. Amid an epidemic of addiction and abuse tied to these powerful opioids drugs, the CDC is urging general doctors to try physical therapy, exercise and over-the-counter pain medications before turning to painkillers for chronic pain. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

Monitor staff
Published: 5/20/2016 3:49:38 PM

State prosecutors got final approval Friday to hire outside help as they try to investigate the marketing practices of drug companies that manufacture powerful prescription painkillers.

The Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee voted unanimously Friday to let the attorney general’s office pay a Washington law firm $100,000 over the next year. The office is examining whether five drug companies, including Purdue Pharma, maker of the popular painkiller OxyContin, have deceptively minimized the addictive risks of their painkillers in New Hampshire.

The probe was opened last year but has been delayed because of a challenge from the companies over whether the attorney general could legally hire outside help. A superior court judge dismissed the claim in March, but said the AG’s office needed approval from state officials before contracting with the firm, Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll.

The drug companies are appealing that ruling.

Earlier this week, the Republican-led Executive Council also voted unanimously in support of the expenditure. Friday’s legislative hearing was the last hurdle before the inquiry could restart.

The $100,000 will be spent over one year – $50,000 for the investigation, $25,000 for expenses and $25,000 for contingencies – and will be drawn from money won during past multi-state settlements.

The attorney general’s office says it needs the help because it can’t possibly take on the investigation and related legal proceedings itself. Its consumer protection bureau has just four employees, while the companies targeted have several local and out-of-state attorneys, including former state attorney general Michael Delaney.

Attorney General Joe Foster told the fiscal committee Friday that he’s not sure the probe will lead to a lawsuit. The goal is to stop deceptive marketing if it is indeed happening, he said.

“The mere fact that we’re investigating may well stop the behavior,” Foster said.

Other states and cities have opened similar inquiries, and some have already found violations. Earlier this year, New York announced a $200,000 fine on Endo Pharmaceuticals, one of the companies targeted in the New Hampshire probe, for telling its sales representatives to hide and distort the addictive tendencies of one of its painkillers, Opana ER, as well as falsely advertising the pills as crush resistant.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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