State News

Manufacturers, distributors to be investigated for causing Wisconsin opioid epidemic

Attorney General Josh Kaul calls for funds to investigate opioid distributors and city councils of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior City, Wisconsin in a joint legal battle against both distributors and manufacturers.

Attorney General Josh Kaul calls for funds to investigate opioid distributors and city councils of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior City, Wisconsin in a joint legal battle against both distributors and manufacturers.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

To combat Wisconsin’s opioid epidemic, Attorney General Josh Kaul appealed to the Department of Justice for support and funding in his investigation against opioid distributors.

This parallels a previous lawsuit against distributors and manufacturers carried out by Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior City, Wisconsin.

“The opioid epidemic is the most significant public safety challenges we face,” Kaul stated. “Part of our response must include looking into whether conduct that may have contributed to that epidemic was unlawful and, if so, holding accountable those who broke the law.”

This investigation is not unprecedented as a bipartisan coalition of attorneys had previously, in attempted an investigation into the distributors and manufacturers that handle around 90 percent of the nation’s opioids in September 2017. 

Kaul’s proposed request calls for the funds to support the Division of Criminal Investigation in their efforts to halt drug trafficking, hire forensic examiners to analyze electronic devices potentially involved in drug trades, assist forensic accountants in dealing with the finances of investigations and issue community policing grants.

In lieu of the investigations, new county-level data detailing drug evidence, available from 2008 to the present, from the state crime labs is now available to the public.

Fentanyl crime reports increased from 51 in 2015 to 529 in 2018 — more than 10 times the original amount. In addition, reported methamphetamine-related crimes reached an all-time high of 1,695 cases in 2017, without a significant foreseeable reduction. 

In further efforts to control the opioid epidemic, the city councils of Duluth and Superior City have jointly issued lawsuits targeting opioid manufacturers and distributors.

Their united front is fighting against manufacturers’ and distributors’ poor conduct that has lead to the epidemic. They seek compensation from the monetary damage that was caused, as well as injunctive relief from the companies’ actions. 

According to Seth Meyer, an attorney with the Keller Lenkner firm out of Chicago contracted in the lawsuit, opioid manufacturing companies have been making a “calculated and visibly financed effort” in expanding opioid use. 

In regard to the role played by the opioid industry, John Parker, senior vice president of communications at the Healthcare Distribution Alliance addressed the possible misperceptions surrounding the issue.

“Given our role, the idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated,” Parker said. “Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation.”

Wisconsin may begin to oversee the actions crucial to combating its opioid crisis as investigations and lawsuits run their course.     

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