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Attorney General Announces the Organization of a Task Force to Examine Opioid Manufacturers and Distributors

This week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that a task force has been created, the sole purpose of which to examine the ways in which opioid manufacturers and distributors are contributing to this country's opioid epidemic. In 2016 alone, nearly 65,000 Americans succumbed to fatal overdoses involving opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The "Prescription Interdiction & Litigation Task Force" is composed of law enforcement officials specializing in both civil and criminal law, including officials from the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS). Their objective is to discern whether opioid manufacturers are being truthful in the marketing of their products, and whether those manufacturers are complying with the rules set by the Food and Drug Administration.

Sessions also said in the statement made by the DOJ that the task force would be examining lawsuits filed by state and local governments against opioid manufacturers to decide if the federal government can offer assistance in those cases. Because, says Sessions "the federal government has borne substantial costs from the opioid crisis," the government "must be compensated" by those who have cost the government money by way of potentially illegal activity.

In addition to focusing on drug manufacturers and distributors, the new task force will also be analyzing the actions of pharmacies, doctors, clinics, and drug testing facilities to determine whether their actions have been unlawful.

In addition to the task force, the DOJ has also announced its intention to file a Statement of Interest in a legal action consisting of multiple districts and hundreds of lawsuits that have been filed against opioid manufacturers and distributors by cities, counties, and states countrywide. Essentially, the DOJ's argument boils down to the fact that because they have laid out substantial funding in federal health programs and ramped-up law enforcement, the government deserves to be reimbursed.

Some of the companies being sued over their alleged participation in the opioid crisis and joined together in a federal lawsuit filed and joined in Ohio include:

  • Purdue Pharma
  • Endo International
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Teva Pharmaceutical Industries
  • Allergan
  • Cardinal Health Inc.
  • McKesson Corp.
  • Amerisource Bergen Corp.

Back in January, Democratic senators Patty Murray (WA) and Elizabeth Warren (MA) asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the White House with regard to its promises and responses to the opioid crisis. It remains unknown at this time whether an investigation is actually underway.

This is not the first time the federal government's commitment to ending the opioid epidemic has been questioned. Back in December, the Washington Post and 60 Minutes collaborated on a report wherein San Francisco-based distributor McKesson was accused of being sloppy insofar as its methods of distributing and selling opioids.

The DEA believed that enough evidence existed to both begin a criminal case against McKesson and obtain a conviction. However, federal prosecutors refused to file charges. Instead, the DEA came to a settlement with McKesson that included a fine of $150 million and the suspension of four of their warehouses. McKesson proclaimed its innocence, saying the DEA's report was inaccurate.