The phrases – “playing nice in the sandbox” and “responsible competitor,” among others – seem innocent enough at first glance.

But using these words in casual conversations, emails and text messages, senior executives at 20 generic drug manufacturers are accused of discussing ways in which they would discourage competition among themselves in a way that would increase prices on medication – and profits for these companies.

The outrageous, brazen nature of these alleged actions has elicited litigation from nearly every attorney general in the country, including Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson. We’re glad to see his office involved in this effort, which undoubtedly has affected numerous Nebraskans.

For those unfamiliar with the story, the lawsuits allege that companies colluded to pick and choose which drugs they would market and which ones they’d leave to their competitors. As a result, everyday citizens, insurance companies and governments paid inflated prices for drugs of all types – including hikes attorneys general claim exceeded 1,000 percent on some prescriptions.

This case, spearheaded by Connecticut’s attorney general, “seeks damages, civil penalties and actions by the court to restore competition to the generic drug market.” If the companies are indeed found liable of price fixing on billions of dollars of sales, those aims seem entirely reasonable amid the accusations.

Coordinated efforts by state attorneys general to tackle widespread public safety topics clearly have an impact.

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Perhaps the best known is the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement, prompted by a lawsuit led by Mississippi’s attorney general. In it, 46 states (including Nebraska) settled cases against the tobacco industry in exchange for the four largest tobacco companies’ paying of hundreds of billions of dollars to recoup the costs of tobacco-related health care and the end of most tobacco advertising.

It’s far too early to tell, but a suit of equal magnitude may be brewing.

A similar case is in the works against Purdue Pharmaceuticals – the maker of Oxycontin – for using deceptive marketing to fuel and exacerbate the nation’s opioid crisis. With Iowa and Kansas among the states joining the suit last week, at least 44 attorneys generals are involved. In a recent statement, Peterson said he’s monitoring the situation, staying in touch with his peers and weighing litigation.

We’re encouraged by the cooperation among attorneys general on such efforts. Though multistate suits are sometimes filed along partisan lines to address controversial political topics – including fighting the travel ban and the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals program – they remain a powerful tool when they transcend party labels and are used in this manner.

The misconduct being alleged by the generic drug companies certainly merits such action, and we fully support Peterson in his participation.

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