Trump administration targets opioid manufacturers

President Trump and the U.S. Justice Department have championed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers as part of a broader push to stem the deadly rise in opioid addiction.

CNBC reported that the U.S. Justice Department launched a new task force to “target the makers and distributors of prescription painkillers who, according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have contributed to an epidemic of fatal overdoses from opioids by selling too much of the addictive drugs.”

Sessions said he is ordering the task force “to examine existing state and local government lawsuits against opioid manufacturers to determine if we can be of assistance,” CNBC reported.

President Trump made his first visit to New Hampshire since the 2016 election on Monday, March 19, when he rolled out a plan to curb opioid addiction.

The New York Times noted that the plan included “the death penalty for drug dealers and a crackdown on illegal immigrants.”

New Hampshire experienced the nation’s third-highest rate of deaths from overdoses, The New York Times reported. “Drug overdoses killed roughly 64,000 people in the United States in 2016, according to initial estimates from the C.D.C., and have become the leading cause of death for Americans under 50,” the newspaper reported.

In response to the President’s speech, Sessions said he assigned “a dozen experienced prosecutors in opioid hot-spot districts to focus solely on investigating and prosecuting opioid-related health care fraud.”

President Trump visited NH on 3/19/18 to speak about the opioid epidemic. Photo credit: Doug Mills/The New York Times as reported by The New York Times on 3/19/18.

President Trump visited NH on 3/19/18 to speak about the opioid epidemic. Photo credit: Doug Mills/The New York Times as reported by
The New York Times
on 3/19/18.

Sessions, in a speech on Thursday, March 22, noted that the President has voiced his “strong support for the Department of Justice’s new Prescription Interdiction and Litigation — or PIL — Task Force,” which will “focus on and coordinate the Department’s efforts to investigate, prosecute or bring lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors who have unlawfully contributed to this epidemic” and will review existing laws. It will also consider assisting with ongoing state and local government lawsuits against opioid manufacturers.

 

Opioid makers face lawsuits

Image from a report in The Atlantic, 6/2/17, "Are Pharmaceutical Companies to Blame for the Opioid Epidemic?"

Image from a report in The Atlantic, 6/2/17, “Are Pharmaceutical Companies to Blame for the Opioid Epidemic?

Gripped by the tragic toll of prescription drug overdoses, states, municipalities and labor unions are suing opioid manufacturers.

“Philadelphia-area union workers are joining a wave of litigation against opioid manufacturers after losing eight members to addiction in 11 months,” Policy and Medicine reported in an Oct. 18, 2017 update.

“In addition to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health and Welfare Fund, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 98 (IBEW) said it is preparing to file a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies that have contributed to the growing opioid crisis.” Other local and national unions may join a class action suit, the site reported.

A coalition of 41 states’ attorneys general also served five major opioid manufacturers with subpoenas “seeking information about how these companies marketed and sold prescription opioids,” according to the update. “The coalition is also demanding documents and information related to distribution practices from three drug distributors.”

Many point to the tobacco industry as precedent for these lawsuits, when, in 1998, tobacco manufacturers, 46 states and six other jurisdictions entered into the largest civil-litigation settlement agreement in U.S. history.

“Some attorneys general and advocates are now asking in court whether the pharmaceutical companies who marketed the drugs and downplayed their addictive nature can be held legally responsible for—and made to pay for the consequences of—the crisis,” reports the Atlantic.

However, some legal experts say that the courts may not see it that way. According to that report, “With the tobacco-industry lawsuits, customers were using the product as instructed and got sick. With opioids it’s a different story: Customers are not using the pills as directed, and so it is harder to blame the pharmaceutical companies for the effects of that misuse, according to Lars Noah, a professor of law at the University of Florida. In addition, doctors, not consumers, were the ones targeted by the aggressive marketing campaigns undertaken by pharmaceutical companies, so it can be difficult to link consumer deaths with aggressive marketing.”