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California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra announces probe of drugmakers over epidemic of opioid deaths

 (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Citing an epidemic of opioid overdose deaths across the country, state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said Friday that California is joining with more than 26 other states to investigate whether drugmakers have used illegal marketing and sales practices.

Becerra said the probe would focus on whether drug manufacturers have played a role in creating or extending the opioid problem.

Makers of opioids have been under heat in recent years as the addiction crisis has intensified. A 2016 Times investigation revealed that Purdue Pharma, which manufactures OxyContin, knew its drug's painkilling effects might not last as long as long as marketed, which could potentially promote addiction. The investigation also found Purdue Pharma collected extensive evidence of criminal trafficking of its drug but in many cases did not alert law enforcement.

In 2015, nearly 2,000 people in California died from opioid overdoses, and there were about 4,000 emergency department visits for overdoses. That same year, doctors wrote nearly 25 million opioid prescriptions, Becerra said, citing the California Opioid Overdose Surveillance Dashboard.

“The opioid crisis is a serious public health threat that is taking the lives of too many Californians, destroying our communities, ripping apart families, and impacting the work of law enforcement,” Becerra said in a statement.

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