DOJ to sup­port law­suits against com­pa­nies sell­ing opi­oids

The Republican Herald - - FRONT PAGE - By SaDie gUr­maN aND ge­off mUL­Vi­HiLL

WASH­ING­TON — The Jus­tice Depart­ment said Tues­day it will sup­port lo­cal of­fi­cials in hun­dreds of law­suits against man­u­fac­tur­ers and dis­trib­u­tors of pow­er­ful opi­oid painkillers that are fu­el­ing the na­tion’s drug abuse cri­sis.

The move is part of a broader ef­fort to more ag­gres­sively tar­get pre­scrip­tion drug­mak­ers for their role in the epi­demic, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions said. The Jus­tice Depart­ment will file a state­ment of in­ter­est in the mul­ti­dis­trict law­suit, ar­gu­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has borne sub­stan­tial costs as a re­sult of the cri­sis that claimed more than 64,000 lives in 2016.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has said it is fo­cus­ing in­tensely on fight­ing drug ad­dic­tion, but crit­ics say its ef­forts fall short of what is needed. Trump signed off this month on a bi­par­ti­san bud­get deal to pro­vide a record $6 bil­lion over the next two years to fight opi­oids, but it’s not yet de­cided how that will be al­lo­cated.

The state­ment of in­ter­est was the lat­est move by the Jus­tice Depart­ment, which has also sought to crack down on black mar­ket drug ped­dlers and doc­tors who neg­li­gently pre­scribe.

It could in­crease the role of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in talks aimed at reach­ing a set­tle­ment be­tween gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties, drug­mak­ers, dis­trib­u­tors and oth­ers. A fed­eral judge in Cleve­land is over­see­ing the talks as an at­tempt to re­solve the case rather than hold a trial in­volv­ing more than 370 plain­tiffs, mostly county and lo­cal gov­ern­ments. The talks also in­clude a group of about 40 states that are con­duct­ing a joint in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the cri­sis but which have not yet sued, as well as states that have sued in state courts.

Tar­gets of the law­suits in­clude drug­mak­ers such as Al­ler­gan, John­son & John­son, and Pur­due Pharma, and the three large drug dis­tri­bu­tion com­pa­nies, Amerisource-Ber­gen, Car­di­nal Health and McKes­son. Drug dis­trib­u­tors and man­u­fac­tur­ers named in these and other law­suits have said they don’t be­lieve lit­i­ga­tion is the an­swer but have pledged to help solve the cri­sis.

Any set­tle­ment deal could in­clude bil­lions of dol­lars in pay­ments that could be used for treat­ment pro­grams, abuse pre­ven­tion and to cover some of the costs in­curred by gov­ern­ment deal­ing with the cri­sis. A fil­ing could also put the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in line to re­ceive some of the pay­outs in a deal. But any set­tle­ment is not likely to cover the cost of the cri­sis. A White House re­port last year es­ti­mated the an­nual cost at about $500 bil­lion, in­clud­ing deaths, health care, lost pro­duc­tiv­ity and crim­i­nal jus­tice costs.

“It’s a game-changer,” Ohio’s at­tor­ney gen­eral Mike DeWine said of the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s in­volve­ment. “It’s a real re­al­iza­tion of what has been go­ing on.”

The lat­est ef­fort by the Jus­tice Depart­ment tar­gets pow­er­ful, but le­gal, pre­scrip­tion painkillers OxyCon­tin and Vi­codin, which have been widely blamed for ush­er­ing in the drug cri­sis. But pre­scrib­ing of those drugs has been fall­ing since 2011 due to poli­cies by gov­ern­ment, med­i­cal and law en­force­ment of­fi­cials de­signed to re­verse years of over­pre­scrib­ing.

The ma­jor­ity of opi­oid deaths now in­volve il­le­gal drugs, es­pe­cially the ul­tra-po­tent opi­oid fen­tanyl. Deaths tied to those fen­tanyl and re­lated drugs dou­bled in 2016, to more than 19,000, drag­ging down Amer­i­cans’ life ex­pectancy for the sec­ond year in a row.

As­so­ci­Ated Press

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions de­liv­ers re­marks to the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of At­tor­neys Gen­eral on Tues­day at their Win­ter Meet­ing in Wash­ing­ton.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.