AUGUSTA — Maine Attorney General Janet Mills is working with a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general from across the country to investigate the practices of manufacturers of opioids.

The inquiry comes as Maine and states around the country face an ongoing opioid overdose crisis that is claiming an average of one Mainer a day from a fatal drug overdose.

Mills said the attorneys general are investigating what role that opioid manufacturers may have played in creating or prolonging the epidemic. She said that since 2010, nearly 800 Mainers have died from an overdose of a pharmaceutical opioid, compared with about 600 who died from an illicit opioid, such as heroin.

“We need to get the genie back in the pill bottle; our society is awash in pills and it is killing us,” Mills said in a prepared statement Monday. “The vast majority of people arrested for possession of heroin or fentanyl tell us their substance abuse disorder began with painkillers. We have to confront all sources of the opiate problem, no matter the origin. It is now common knowledge that certain drug companies sold the public and medical community a bill of goods by marketing products as being non-addictive when in fact hundreds of thousands of people developed severe dependency to these substances.”

Mills did not specify which states were involved in the investigation and did not say whether the probe was criminal or civil in nature.

During 2015, drug overdoses accounted for 52,404 U.S. deaths, including 33,091 that involved an opioid, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Costs related to opioid abuse, including spending on treatment and policing as well as lost economic output, amount to tens of billions of dollars per year, according to a 2016 study by Wolters Kluwer Health published in the journal Medical Care and cited in a Bloomberg News report last week.

In May, Ohio’s Republican attorney general, Mike DeWine, filed a lawsuit against five companies that are the largest producers and distributors of opioid painkillers. Other investigations or civil lawsuits also have been announced in Arizona, Illinois, Massachusetts and Texas.

The city of Everett, Washington, also is suing Oxycontin maker Perdue Pharma in an unusual case that alleges the drugmaker knowingly allowed pills to be funneled into the black market and the city of about 108,000. Everett alleges that Purdue Pharma did nothing to stop it and must pay for damages it caused to the community.

In 2007, Purdue Pharma and its executives paid more than $630 million in legal penalties to the federal government for willfully misrepresenting the drug’s addiction risks. The same year, it also settled with Washington and other states that claimed the company aggressively marketed Oxycontin to doctors while downplaying the addiction risk. As part of that settlement, it agreed to continue internal controls to identify potential diversion or abuse.

Mills’ office would not identify the targets of its investigation at this time.

The attorney general, who has said she is considering a run for governor in 2018, also is sponsoring a public education campaign and website titled “Dose of Reality” to remind Mainers that painkillers can be deadly, that sharing prescriptions is dangerous and that pills should be properly stored. The website also includes sections on the appropriate use of painkillers, proper disposal, and a guide to addiction treatment services and support groups.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: thisdog