WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice is launching a new unit to target pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors that flooded America with opioid painkillers, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday.
The Prescription Interdiction and Litigation Unit will investigate pharmaceutical companies for their role in the opioid epidemic and will examine legislative and regulatory approaches that could decrease the flow of prescription painkillers, Sessions said with seven state attorneys general beside him.
“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,” Sessions said at a press briefing. “We will continue to attack the opioid crisis from every angle and we continue to work tirelessly to bring down the number of opioid prescriptions. We think they are just too many.”
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro added: “When four out of every five heroin users start with a legal prescription drug, the supply chain runs directly to these opioid manufacturers, it runs directly to the opioid distributors.”
I believe that these opioid painkillers have been the jet fuel to this crisis,” he continued.
A congressional committee investigation, for example, found that pharmaceutical distributors flooded one West Virginia town with a population of less than 3,000 with nearly 21 million prescription painkillers over the past decade. The state is among the hardest hit by the opioid epidemic.
Opioid Summit at U.S. Southern Command, Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Lally, U.S. Southern Command
Additionally, critics widely blame Purdue Pharma – the drug manufacturer that produces OxyContin – for being the primary initiator of the nation’s epidemic for downplaying opioids’ addictiveness and convincing doctors to prescribe painkillers to patients facing chronic pain, a previous Daily Caller News Foundation investigation found.
Purdue’s OxyContin sales have helped make the company’s sole owners – the Sackler family – one of America’s richest clans with a $13 billion net worth in 2016, according to Forbes.
Forty-one states – along with hundreds of cities and counties – have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors, including Purdue, for their role in the opioid epidemic.
The Justice Department “will file a statement of interest in a lawsuit against a number of opioid manufacturers and distributors for alleging using false, deceptive and unfair marketing of opioid drugs,” Session said.
The Justice Department also recently announced that Mary Daly, an experienced federal prosecutor, will serve as the opioid enforcement and prevention efforts director – a new position created to head the agency’s initiatives and policies combating opioids.
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