PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Two big issues for state Attorney General Josh Shapiro this week:
On Thursday, his office argues in the State Supreme Court that UPMC cannot deny Highmark customers medical treatment after June 30 when the Highmark-UPMC consent decree expires, while on Tuesday, Shapiro sued pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma for illegally hooking Pennsylvanians on oxycontin.
“Purdue provided the jet fuel to the heroin, fentynal and opioid crisis that we face today that is claiming the lives of 12 Pennsylvanians every single day,” Shapiro told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Wednesday.
Shapiro alleges Purdue Pharma who sells Oxycontin products violated the state’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection laws.
“They flooded the market using a legion of drug reps or detailers to push their product out into the market place, lie about its addictive qualities, lie about their product in an attempt to get people hooked,” he said.
And Oxycontin is hardly aspirin.
“It has the same chemical makeup as heroin, and so four out of every five heroin users started with a legal prescription drug like Oxycontin,” Shapiro said.
The AG’s office documented over 530,000 visits by Purdue Pharma to doctors’ offices and pharmacies in Pennsylvania.
“They would show up with gifts. They would show up with all kinds of things they would give to these doctors, trying to get them to push their product,” Shapiro said.
Fighting drug companies on one hand and medical providers on the other, as Shapiro takes on UPMC for denying health care to Highmark customers when a consent decree ends on June 30.
Shapiro says non-profits like UPMC can’t pick and choose their patients.
“We think that violates our charities laws in Pennsylvania, plain and simple. So we have taken them to court on that. What we are asking the Supreme Court to do tomorrow in very basic terms is hit the pause button on the consent decree. Allow them to stay in place while we work through these legal issues that we’ve presented to the court,” he said.
The oral argument before the Supreme Court begins Thursday around 9 a.m., with attorneys for the AG and UPMC making their case and answering questions from the justices.
While the legislature could enact legislation to help Highmark customers, Republican leaders, so far, don’t seem inclined to put those bills up for a vote.
That leaves the court as one of the few options left.