WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Justice says it will join states in lawsuits against opioid manufactures and distributors and use a new task force to address the nationwide drug epidemic.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the department’s new policy during a Tuesday press conference in Washington, D.C.
“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.
Sessions announced the formation of the Prescription Interdiction and Litigation task force. It will examine local and state government lawsuits against opioid manufacturers who, he says, has contributed to the drug epidemic. The task force will also assist the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and law enforcement at all levels.
“We are attacking this crisis at its root,” Sessions said. “We will use criminal penalties. We will use civil penalties. We will use whatever laws and tools we have to hold people accountable if they break our laws.”
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey was one of seven Attorneys Generals to join Sessions during Tuesday’s announcement. AGs from Ohio, Texas, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Utah were all on hand.
“We need to promote non-opioid alternatives,” Morrisey said. “We need to make sure that we get this pill crisis under control. As Attorney General Sessions and others have indicated, pills remain the principle pathway to heroin, to fentanyl, carfentanil, elephant tranquilizer — these powerful products that steal generations of lives.”
Morrisey said West Virginia is already making progress to address the issue.
“Over the last number of years, West Virginia has taken a number of important steps to go after this epidemic and tackle it holistically from a supply, a demand and an educational perspective. That type of approach is going to be needed,” he said.
Morrisey called the pharmaceutical supply system “fundamentally flawed” and needs to be changed. He said the number of pills that have been distributed to West Virginia communities and across the nation have “spiraled out of control.”
The goal of the new initiative is to reduce overdose deaths, reduce addiction and to reduce the amount of prescription opioids that are offered in the country, Sessions said.
In addition, the DOJ has hired a federal prosecutor to lead the department’s opioid prevention efforts. She will help formulate and implement initiatives, policies, federal grants and programs related to opioids and will coordinate those efforts with law enforcement.
In 2016, an estimated 64,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses — the highest ever recorded in U.S. history. Preliminary data suggests that even more deaths were reported in 2017. The vast majority of the deaths were the result of opioids, prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl.
The opioid crisis has costed the U.S. $1 trillion since 2001. Last year alone, the crisis costed the nation $115 billion.