New Mexico expands lawsuit centered on opioid crisis

February 26, 2019
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas discusses the effects of the opioid crisis on families throughout the state during a news conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Balderas' office has filed a motion seeking to expand the list of defendants in New Mexico's ongoing lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors to include pharmacies and others in the supply chain. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico is seeking a sweeping expansion of its ongoing lawsuit over the opioid crisis by targeting some of the United States’ largest drugstore retailers and other companies that are part of the supply chain for the prescription medications.

Attorney General Hector Balderas said Tuesday that Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and others have been profiting from the sale of opioids and should be reinvesting in community education and awareness campaigns, treatment centers and law enforcement intervention programs.

The way states and local jurisdictions fight the opioid epidemic has to change, Balderas said.

“These out-of-state companies have harmed New Mexicans. They’ve harmed generations of New Mexicans as politicians and others have stood idly by as we just cop-out and blame other causes for addiction,” he said.

New Mexico filed its initial claim in state district court in 2017 against five of the nation’s major opioid manufacturers and three wholesale distributors, seeking to recoup money spent over the years by the state on medical care for addicts, welfare for children whose parents were addicted and costs incurred by public safety agencies as a result of overdoses and crime.

Three more manufacturers were added as defendants in late 2017, and the state fended off a challenge last year to have the case moved to federal court.

Other states and Native American tribes have filed their own lawsuits against drugmakers, distributors and pharmacy chains.

Florida sued Walgreens and CVS last fall, alleging they added to the state and national opioid crisis by overselling painkillers and not taking precautions to stop illegal sales. The Cherokee Nation sued CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and others in 2017.

CVS has argued that it has stringent procedures to determine whether a controlled substance prescription was issued for a legitimate medical purpose before a pharmacist fills it. Walgreens has declined to comment on any of the pending litigation.

Walmart in 2018 said it would take steps aimed at curbing opioid abuse and misuse by restricting initial acute opioid prescriptions to no more than a seven-day supply. It also said it would follow laws in states that require acute opioid prescriptions for less than seven days.

Whether the list of defendants grows in New Mexico will be up to a state judge who is expected to rule soon. The motion targeting the drugstore chains and others was filed Tuesday.

In its complaint, New Mexico accuses opioid manufacturers of aggressively pushing highly addictive and dangerous drugs and falsely representing to doctors that patients would rarely succumb to addiction. It accuses distributors of failing to monitor, investigate and report suspicious orders of prescription opiates.

Balderas said the epidemic has affected generations of New Mexicans.

While the state has enacted a series of measures in recent years to combat the scourge, its drug overdose rate of 24.8 per 100,000 still remains above the national average.

Federal data put the state’s number of deaths at 493 in 2017. The figures show more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States that year.