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Jeff Sessions Announces Justice Department Will Join Drug Company Lawsuits

Susan Walsh
Associated Press
Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivers remarks to the National Association of Attorneys General at their Winter Meeting in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and his counterparts from a half dozen other states joined U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to announce the next steps in the battle against opioid addiction. 

Sessions announced the federal government will join Ohio and hundreds of other local and state governments suing the companies that make and distribute opioid drugs.

Those lawsuits have been consolidated in the Cleveland courtroom of federal Judge Dan Polster, who is pressuring the DEA to release the full database of painkiller sales and distribution. Sessions said he wants the DEA to cooperate.

“We are looking at that very hard,” Sessions said. “I’ve instructed our attorneys in the last several days actually to make sure whatever we can produce for them – we know we can produce – let’s do it now. And if there are areas that need additional research before its revealed we should do that, we’ll get busy about it.” 

DeWine praised Sessions for filing what’s called a “statement of interest” that accuses the drug companies of “false, deceptive, and unfair marketing of opioid drugs.” He also said Sessions has shown special interest in the spread of fentanyl, which DeWine said is largely responsible for the continuing escalation of Ohio’s overdose deaths.

“Thank you for your administration’s focus in regard to the manufacturers of these drugs,” DeWine said. “We now have 14 states that have filed lawsuits against the drug manufacturers and the fact that you have filed as a party of interest is, I think, a game changer.” 

Ohio recently announced it would sue four drug distributors, including Dublin-based Cardinal Health, for contributing to the opioid crisis. The state is already suing five drug manufacturers.

The Trump administration has said it is focusing intensely on fighting opioid addiction, although critics in Ohio and across the nation say its efforts – and funding – fall far short of what is needed.

Sessions also announced he’s creating a prescription interdiction and litigation task force to target opioid manufacturers and distributors. He’s also appointing a former assistant U.S. attorney as director of opioid enforcement and prevention efforts.

The Justice Department hopes to collect on any settlement payout that comes from the lawsuits. Sessions says the federal government has borne substantial costs as a result of the drug crisis, which claimed more than 64,000 lives in 2016. In Ohio alone, opioid overdoses killed 5,200 people between June 2016 and 2017, an increase of 39 percent over the same period the year before.