Sessions Announces Task Force, Throws Support Behind Opioid Lawsuits

By Kelly Burch 03/02/18

One of the functions of the task force will be to assist state and local municipalities that have already filed lawsuits against Big Pharma companies.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the formation of a federal task force that will target opioid manufacturers and distributors that have contributed to the opioid epidemic through unscrupulous practices, at the same time that he announced the Department of Justice’s support for lawsuits against opioid manufacturers. 

Sessions announced the Prescription Interdiction and Litigation task force on Tuesday, and said that authorities will be given full support by the Department of Justice to go after drug companies, according to CNBC.

"We will use criminal penalties, we will use civil penalties,” Sessions said. "We will use whatever laws and tools we have to hold people accountable if they break our laws.”

Sessions called the opioid epidemic “the deadliest drug crisis in American history.”

One of the essential functions of the task force will be to assist state and local municipalities that have already filed lawsuits against big pharmaceutical companies. Sessions said that the federal government will assist in one massive lawsuit in Ohio that combines complaints from more than 400 municipalities across the U.S., the New York Times reported.

“I am announcing today that the department will file a statement of interest in a lawsuit against a number of opioid manufacturers and distributors for allegedly using false, deceptive, and unfair marketing of opioid drugs,” Sessions said.

The judge in that Ohio case expressed his desire to reach a verdict that will make a real difference for public health. 

“My objective is to do something meaningful to abate this crisis and to do it in 2018,” U.S. District Judge Dan Polster said in January. “I’m confident we can do something to dramatically reduce the number of opioids that are being disseminated, manufactured and distributed. Just dramatically reduce the quantity and make sure that the pills that are manufactured and distributed go to the right people and no one else.”

Many state and local governments have filed lawsuits as a way to recoup some of the costs associated with the opioid epidemic. Sessions said that the federal government has the right to sue using the same principle. 

"The Justice Department will primarily argue that the federal government—through various federal health programs and law enforcement efforts—has borne substantial costs from the opioid epidemic and seeks reimbursement,” he said. 

Mary Daly, a federal prosecutor who has experience litigating against transnational drug-trafficking groups, will lead the task force’s legal efforts. 

Sessions said that the task force and opioid manufacturer lawsuits are just the beginning of the federal government's involvement. 

"These are not our last steps,” he said. “We will continue to attack the opioid crisis from every angle. And we will continue to work tirelessly to bring down the number of opioid prescriptions, reduce the number of fatal overdoses, and to protect the American people."

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.