Justice officials, Pa. attorney general talk about latest actions in opioid fight

The U.S. Department of Justice is launching a new task force targeting opioid manufacturers and distributors, as well as weighing in on legal action against a number of those companies, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday afternoon.

Sessions said the opioid crisis has created substantial costs as it has claimed lives — projecting the public health crisis will cost a half-trillion dollars over the next three years.

The agency will submit a statement of interest in a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors over deceptive marketing practices, and will seek reimbursement on those costs. Sessions said Medicare spent $4 billion on opioid prescriptions in 2016 alone.

“Hard-working taxpayers deserve to be compensated by any whose illegal activity contributed to these costs, and we will go to court to ensure the American people receive the compensation that they deserve,” Sessions said.

The new Prescription Interdiction and Litigation (PIL) task force will use criminal and civil tools to push back against opioid manufacturers.

Sessions talked about those latest efforts in the national opioid fight while flanked by attorneys general from a number of states hardest hit by opioid overdoses, including Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

Shapiro’s office is helping lead a 41-state probe into the business practices of five manufacturers and three distributors that those involved in the investigation say are responsible for distributing nearly 90 percent of the nation’s prescription opioids.

He said after Tuesday’s news conference that the DOJ’s decision to get involved in legal action against manufacturers “highlights the issue even more” as the separate investigation by Pennsylvania and other states is conducted.

“The more agents on the ground, the more lawyers on the ground, the more we share intelligence and cooperate on individual investigations, the better off we all are,” Shapiro said.

Fifteen Pennsylvanians die of heroin or opioid overdoses each day, Shapiro said.

Combating that crisis requires several simultaneous approaches, including arresting drug dealers, cracking down on legal prescriptions that are being used illegally, collaborating among state and federal officials, and focusing on the supply chain of drugs, he added.

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