Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and a bipartisan group of 38 other attorneys general have called on Congress to pass two bills to help reduce the flow of opioids into the black market. The bills, sponsored by Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, increase penalties on opioid manufacturers and distributors.
“Opioid companies have a duty to ensure they take every step and act quickly to prevent their drugs from getting into the wrong hands,” Ferguson said. “Drug companies know what suspicious activity looks like, but I’ve seen them ignore their responsibility to report it. Sen. Cantwell’s bills hold them accountable, and I thank her for her leadership.”
The bipartisan coalition, led by Ferguson and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, sent a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee.
The two bills increase penalties on drug companies that fail to report suspicious transactions and maintain effective controls against diversion of their drugs to the illicit market. The bills would increase the civil penalty from $10,000 to $100,000 per violation for negligence in reporting suspicious activity and double the criminal penalty to $500,000 for companies that do not keep proper reporting systems or fail to report suspicious activity.
“Diversion of prescription opioids has devastated communities in our states,” Ferguson’s letter reads. “The consequences of turning a blind eye to suspicious opioid orders cannot merely be a cost of doing business.”
In September 2017, Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, one of the nation’s largest opioid manufacturers. The lawsuit accuses Purdue of fueling the opioid epidemic in Washington state, embarking on a massive deceptive marketing campaign and convincing doctors and the public that their drugs are effective for treating chronic pain and have a low risk of addiction, contrary to overwhelming evidence.
In June 2017, at Governor Inslee’s request, the Attorney General’s Office hosted a summit on Washington’s opioid epidemic in partnership with the Washington State Patrol and the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
A report developed by the organizations after the summit included a range of recommendations, three of which became the subject of Attorney General Request legislation in the recent 2018 legislative session. Proposals to limit first-time prescriptions of opioids, and to require that doctors check the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program database for evidence of misuse or dangerous prescribing patterns before prescribing opioids failed to pass the Legislature.
A successful third bill gives the Attorney General’s Office Medicaid Fraud Control Unit authority to issue search warrants and make arrests in Medicaid fraud cases, including those involving opioid misuse.