Justice Department Backs States Suing Opioid Makers Over ‘Illegal Activity’

REUTERS/Sait Serkan Gurbuz

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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The Department of Justice is creating a new task force to investigate opioid manufacturers and distributors, it will weigh in on state lawsuits against the pharmaceutical industry.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday he has directed the task force to “examine existing state and local government lawsuits against opioid manufacturers to determine if we can be of assistance.”

Officials across the country are currently suing the largest opioid manufacturers for their alleged “false, deceptive, and unfair” marketing schemes the Justice Department claims ignited the addiction epidemic, CNBC reported.

Sessions also said officials with the Justice Department will file a statement of interests in a multi-district legal action involving hundreds of lawsuits pinning blame on drugmakers for the opioid crisis.

“The federal government has borne substantial costs as a result of the opioid crisis,” Sessions said in remarks Tuesday. “The hard-working taxpayers of this country deserve to be compensated by those whose illegal activity contributed to those costs. And we will go to court to ensure that the American people receive the compensation they deserve.”

Much of the Justice Department’s opioid crisis response has focused on drug traffickers, overprescribing doctors and people committing opioid-related insurance fraud. Officials announced Jan. 1 they were making new resources available to the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit that draws on data from Medicaid, Medicare and local coroner reports to root out doctors profiting off the national opioid epidemic.

Sessions announced Aug. 2 the appointment of 12 veteran prosecutors to “focus solely” on targeting doctors and other medical providers taking advantage of widespread addiction to opioids in the U.S. The Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit is operating in 12 regions the opioid epidemic hit the hardest, including Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio.

Drug overdose deaths surged in 2016 by 21 percent, claiming more than 64,000 lives nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The primary drive for the increase is opioids, which claimed 42,249 lives in 2016 — a 28 percent increase over the roughly 33,000 lives lost to opioids in 2015.

Deaths from synthetic opioids like fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller roughly 50-to-100 times more powerful than morphine, experienced a particularly dramatic increase — more than doubling from 9,580 lives in 2015 to 19,413 lives in 2016.

The epidemic is contributing to declining life expectancy in the U.S., officials say. Said span dropped for the second consecutive year in 2016 for the first time since the 1962 and 1963 influenza outbreaks.

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