Earlier this week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a new task force designed to fight the prescription opioid crisis. The task force is called the Department of Justice Prescription Interdiction & Litigation (PIL) Task Force and will focus particularly on opioid manufacturers and distributors. The task force represents yet another step in the government’s increased efforts to battle the epidemic of opioid addiction and deaths nationwide.

In a lengthy statement from the Department of Justice (DOJ), Sessions indicates that the task force will tackle the opioid crisis at every level and using every means at its disposal to hold opioid manufacturers and distributors accountable for any unlawful actions that are contributing to the crisis.

At the manufacturer level, Sessions has directed the PIL Task force to survey the growing number of state and local lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and determine what assistance the DOJ can provide, noting that the federal government has incurred substantial costs during the ongoing crisis. In this vein, the DOJ has filed a statement of interest in the Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) based in Ohio known as the National Prescription Opiate Litigation. The MDL combines nearly 200 lawsuits filed nationwide by state and local governments, labor unions, and hospitals against 50 drug makers and distributors. In most cases, the manufacturers are accused of using deceptive marketing strategies to boost the sales of highly addictive prescription painkillers and adding fuel to the fire of the epidemic.

The PIL Task force will also utilize its significant array of tools, both civil and criminal, to hold those on the distribution-side of the equation accountable as well, painting a target on pharmacies, pain management clinics, drug testing facilities, and individual physicians.

Tools specifically mentioned in the statement include Drug Enforcement Administration rules regarding diversion and improper prescribing, the Controlled Substances Act, and the False Claims Act.

In addition to utilizing the DOJ’s existing tools, Sessions has directed the PIL Task Force to establish immediately a working group to: (1) improve coordination and data sharing across the federal government to better identify violations of law and patterns of fraud related to the opioid epidemic; (2) evaluate possible changes to the regulatory regime governing opioid distribution; and (3) recommend changes in laws.

“Over the past year, the Department has vigorously fought the prescription opioid crisis, and we are determined to continue making progress. Today, we are opening a new front in the war on the opioid crisis by bringing all of our anti-opioid efforts under one banner,” said Attorney General Sessions.  “We have no time to waste.  Every day, 180 Americans die from drug overdoses.  This epidemic actually lowered American life expectancy in 2015 and 2016 for the first time in decades, with drug overdose now the leading cause of death for Americans under age 50.  These are not acceptable trends and this new task force will make us more effective in reversing them and saving Americans from the scourge of opioid addiction.”

The Health Care and Pharmacy law team at FisherBroyles welcomes your questions regarding the subject matter of this alert. Please contact any of the following attorneys:

Brian Dickerson, FisherBroyles Partner
Brian E. Dickerson

Anthony Calamunci, FisherBroyles Partner
Anthony Calamunci

Nicole Waid, FisherBroyles Partner
Nicole Hughes Waid

Amy Butler, FisherBroyles Partner
Amy Butler