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AG files lawsuit against opioid manufactures, distributers

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Lawmakers agree: Opioid epidemic is crippling NM

ALBUQUERQUE – Attorney General Hector Balderas announced Sept. 7, that he has brought a lawsuit on behalf of the State of New Mexico against the country’s largest manufacturers and wholesale distributors of opioids, a crucial first step toward holding these companies responsible for flooding New Mexico’s communities with prescription opioids and fueling the opioid epidemic by putting profits over people.

The State of New Mexico is filing suit against five of the largest manufacturers of prescription opioids and their related companies and against the country’s three largest wholesale drug distributors. The manufacturing companies pushed highly addictive, dangerous opioids, falsely representing to doctors that patients would only rarely succumb to drug addiction, while the distributors breached their legal duties to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse and report suspicious orders of prescription opioids.

“New Mexico continues to endure the most catastrophic effects of the opioid crisis, all while major out of state corporations make billions in profits at the expense of our families and communities,” said Attorney General Hector Balderas. “This lawsuit is part of my office’s multi-pronged effort, Project OPEN, to combat the opioid crisis in New Mexico by holding drug manufacturers and distributors accountable, securing treatment resources, and increasing funding for law enforcement.”

“I support Attorney General Balderas’ continued efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, particularly in Rio Arriba County,” Española Mayor Alice Lucero said. “Families in Española know all too well what the realities of this crisis look like and this action is much needed to stop the flood of these dangerous drugs into our community.”

“As the District Attorney of communities with some of the highest opioid and heroin abuse rates in the country, I see the daily effects of this crisis in our own backyards,” said 1st Judicial District Attorney Marco Serna. “Attorney General Balderas’ efforts to combat this problem are part of a crucial statewide solution, and are the only way rural communities will be protected from this epidemic. I helped Attorney General Balderas launch Project OPEN earlier this year and I will continue to partner with his office to combat this crisis as one jurisdiction cannot do it alone.”

“The Doña Ana County District Attorney’s Office supports Attorney General Balderas’ lawsuit and leadership on this important issue, and I look forward to hosting the next Project OPEN with the Attorney General in Las Cruces,” said 3rd Judicial District Attorney Mark D’Antonio. We must attack the opioid crisis that is ravaging our families and straining our law enforcement resources in Doña Ana County and across New Mexico.”

Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima said, “The opioid crisis is spreading across New Mexico at an alarming rate and in Las Cruces we are working to get ahead of the epidemic by focusing on prevention and treatment. That is why I am proud to partner with Attorney General Balderas to host the next Project OPEN training in Las Cruces and to support his lawsuit seeking critical resources for New Mexico communities in this battle.”

The lawsuit was filed in the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe County. The lawsuit alleges, among numerous counts, that the drug manufacturers falsely and misleadingly downplayed the serious risk of addiction to prescription opioids and falsely touted the benefits of long-term opioid use, reversing the popular and medical understanding of opioids. The wholesale distributors, meanwhile, violated their duties by selling huge quantities of opioids that were diverted from their lawful, medical purpose, thus causing an opioid and heroin addiction and overdose epidemic in the State of New Mexico.

The opioid epidemic has grown worse as people addicted to prescription pills have-- thanks to heightened enforcement efforts--found them harder to come by. Very often, these individuals have turned to cheaper, illegal street drugs including heroin and fentanyl. The residents of New Mexico continue to bear the burden of the epidemic as the costs of health care, addiction treatment, education, and law enforcement have continued to rise.

While deaths in New Mexico due to illicit drugs have remained steady during the past 10 years, deaths due to prescription drugs – particularly opioid pain relievers – have increased dramatically, nearly doubling between 2000 and 2014. New Mexico’s death rate from drug overdose grew in lockstep with the increasing sale and distribution of opioid drugs by the manufacturers and wholesale distributors. The New Mexico Department of Health estimates that in 2007 alone prescription opioid abuse and misuse cost the State of New Mexico $890 million for items such as excess medical and prescription costs, lost earnings from premature deaths and costs associated with correctional facilities and police services.

Attorney General Balderas filed this lawsuit as part of the Office of the Attorney General’s Project OPEN: Opioid Prevention & Education Network. Through this targeted enforcement effort, the Office of the Attorney General works aggressively to bring civil enforcement actions against individuals and businesses who have harmed vulnerable New Mexican populations and New Mexican taxpayers.

THE PROBLEM:

· Since 2008, New Mexico has had one of the highest rates of drug overdose death in the United States.

· On average, over 500 New Mexicans die annually of a drug overdose, and approximately 70% of those deaths resulted from either opioid pain relievers or heroin.

· On average, that’s seven deaths a week resulting from either opioid pain relievers or heroin.

· In Rio Arriba County and Mora County, overdose death rates were more than five times the national rate.

· DOH reports that Naloxone was deployed by self-reporting individuals pursuant to the needle exchange program 850 times in 2014 and 790 times in 2015 in the State of New Mexico (otherwise resulting in overdose/wrongful deaths in the State of New Mexico).

· Close to half of NM counties have a drug overdose death rate that is one and half times higher than the US rate.

· New Mexico’s death rate from prescription drugs exceeds the statewide death rate from illicit drugs in more than half of the counties.

· Over the last 14 years, we have seen overdose deaths caused by prescription opioids rise faster than deaths caused by heroin.

· Drug overdose deaths and opioid-involved deaths continue to increase in the United States. The majority of drug overdose deaths (more than six out of ten) involve an opioid. Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) quadrupled.

· From 2000 to 2015 more than half a million people died in the US from drug overdoses.

· In New Mexico, Hispanic men had the highest drug overdose death rate with an average age of death of 45.

· In Lincoln County, 92.6% of every 100 citizens has a prescription for opioids.

· In over a third of NM counties, over 80% of every 100 citizens has a prescription for opioids.

· Approximately 175,800 people in New Mexico are currently prescribed opioids.

· More people use prescription opioids than tobacco.

· In Rio Arriba County, 64 out of every 1000 babies born suffers from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome--a condition caused when the child is exposed to addictive opioids while in the womb and is born addicted. That’s 10 times the national average for this syndrome.

· Drug overdose deaths as a leading cause of death has surpassed motor vehicle crash deaths in New Mexico.

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