As communities nationwide grapple with opioid addiction, Texas and a coalition of 40 other states have served investigative subpoenas and other requests to eight companies that manufacture or distribute prescription painkillers, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Tuesday.

It’s the latest development in an investigation unveiled in June. Paxton and his counterparts are trying to determine whether opioid manufacturers played a role in creating or prolonging what has become a national epidemic.

The attorneys general served investigative subpoenas to drugmakers Endo Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceuticals' Cephalon, Allergan and their related entities, and they served a supplemental subpoena to Purdue Pharma, Paxton’s office said. The states also sent “information demand letters” to three opioid distributers: AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson. 

“The goal of this phase of our investigation is to collect enough information so that the multi-state coalition can effectively evaluate whether manufacturers and distributors engaged in unlawful practices in the marketing, sale, and distribution of opioids,” Paxton said in a statement. “We’ll determine an appropriate course of action once it’s determined what role these companies may have played in creating or prolonging the opioid crisis.”

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Caitlin Carroll, a spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said Tuesday she could not comment on the investigation of individual companies, but she pointed to policies her group supports to "prevent and deter abuse."

An Allergan spokesman said that company was "working cooperatively with the state attorneys general," but he downplayed the company's share of the opioid market and said it didn't aggressively promote such drugs.

"Allergan’s two branded opioid products — Norco and Kadian — account for less than 0.08 percent of all opioid products prescribed in 2016 in the U.S.," the spokesman, Mark Marmur, said. "These products came to Allergan through legacy acquisitions and have not been promoted since 2012, in the case of Kadian, and since 2003, in the case of Norco."

Cardinal Health also released a lengthy statement in which the company said: "We look forward to working with the attorneys general."

Opioids are a family of drugs including prescription painkillers like hydrocodone, as well as illicit drugs like heroin.

Prescription and illegal opioids account for more than 60 percent of overdose deaths in the United States, a toll that has quadrupled over the past two decades, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Drug overdose deaths in 2015 far outnumbered deaths from auto accidents or guns. 

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Texas saw 1,186 opioid-related deaths in 2015, while the nation as a whole had 33,000 such deaths that year. Researchers have flagged opioids as one possible factor in Texas’ staggering rise in women’s deaths during and shortly after pregnancy.

In teaming up to probe drug companies, some experts suggest the states are following a playbook similar to one used during the 1990s to sue tobacco companies for their role in fueling a costly health crisis — an effort that resulted in a settlement yielding more than $15 billion for Texas alone.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is part of a bipartisan group of state attorneys general investigating opioid manufacturers' role in the nation's deadly epidemic of opioid abuse. [Full story]

  • New efforts aim to reduce and track the opioid market, but the availability of illegal alternatives, insufficient treatment centers and poor prescribing habits threaten to perpetuate the crisis of opioid abuse. [Full story]

  • Health workers and first responders hoped Texas might be awarded $1 million to buy an anti-overdose drug, but state officials never submitted the grant application. [Full story]

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