The state of Arkansas will investigate and possibly take action against opioid manufacturers if it determines they behaved unlawfully in worsening the state’s prescription drug problem, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced Wednesday (Jan. 24).
Rutledge said her office has entered into a contract with four law firms, including the Little Rock firm of Dover Dixon Horne, to conduct the investigation.
The other three firms are also working with the states of Ohio, Louisiana and Mississippi in their own actions against the manufacturers. Those firms are Seattle-based Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro; the Mike Moore Law Firm in Mississippi; and South Carolina-based McGowan, Hood & Felder.
She said her office lacks the manpower to investigate the manufacturers in a case that could have multiple defendants. The attorney general’s office will maintain control over the investigation. The fee schedule is set in statute from a 2015 state law, with contingency fees shrinking as a percentage of the judgment grows higher.
Rutledge said her office has been working on the investigation for several months and does not have a time frame for its conclusion. She said she does not know what kind of collaboration Arkansas will have with the other states. This particular investigation will focus only on manufacturers, though Rutledge said, “Nothing is off the table.”
“This opioid epidemic knows no boundaries, and I believe that the lengths to which the state will go to stop this epidemic should also know no boundaries,” she said.
Arkansas has not joined an investigation of the pharmaceutical manufacturers by 41 other states. With so many states participating, that effort could focus on population size instead of the disproportionate affect Arkansas has suffered during the epidemic, she said.
Rutledge said the numbers nationally and in Arkansas are “staggering.”
Drug overdose deaths in Arkansas increased from 113 in 1999 to more than 400 in 2016. The state has the second highest opioid prescription rate in the country, 114.6 per 100 persons according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, trailing only Alabama with 121 prescriptions per 100 persons. Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana are third, fourth and fifth. Arkansas has the highest rates of misuse of painkillers by children ages 12-17.
She described various Arkansans who have been affected by the epidemic, including a 16-year-old who tore an anterior cruciate ligament in a soccer match and is now addicted to painkillers, and grieving families who have lost a loved one and then learned their painkillers were being stolen by a home health aide or visiting church member.
The Association of Arkansas Counties has filed a federal lawsuit against opioid manufacturers because of the money counties say they have paid for opioid prescriptions. The Arkansas Municipal League plans a similar lawsuit.