Justice Department backs opioid lawsuits in Ohio, other states - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Justice Department backs opioid lawsuits in Ohio, other states

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -

The Department of Justice announced several moves to support Ohio, and other states', attempts to recoup their losses from the battle against the opioid epidemic. 

The U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that the federal agency is officially throwing its support behind Ohio, and the forty other states that have filed lawsuits, alleging that the manufacturers of prescription opioids purposefully defrauded taxpayers. 

It's been nearly one year since Ohio's Attorney General Mike DeWine sued the five largest manufacturers of prescription opioids for their alleged roles in misleading doctors about how addictive prescription opioids are. The lawsuit seeks remedies from the manufacturers to help remediate the damage caused by the proliferation of opioids in Ohio. 

During Tuesday's announcement, A.G. Sessions says he's been aware of the progress these lawsuits are making and feels that the nation as a whole deserves to be repaid as well. 

"Mike DeWine and I worked on this and talked about this before. in fact, we're already getting involved in these cases," said Sessions. "I'm announcing today that the department will file a statement of interest in a lawsuit against a number of opioid manufacturers and distributors for allegedly using false, deceptive, and unfair marketing of opioid drugs. The federal government has borne substantial cost as a result of this crisis. medicare prescription drug program, for example, paid out more than $4 billion for opioids in 2016 alone. The hard-working taxpayers of this country 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 they deserve."

DeWine said during the conference that he was thankful that the DOJ would throw support behind the lawsuits. 

"The facts are that about 20 years ago, drug manufacturers decided that they wanted a much bigger market and they went to the primary care physicians and spent hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising and focus on them to convince them that these were wonder drugs and told them at the time of that these drugs were quote not very addictive. We know they are very addictive and yet these drug companies continued to do this" said DeWine.  "So I appreciate what you're doing today, the sequence has a pretty simple. People get addicted to the pain meds, they move from their because of price, sometimes, availability to heroin. And from heroin to fentanyl and then to carfentanil and other things."

A.G. DeWine announced late last year a 12 step plan that could utilize any reimbursement from the lawsuit could go toward to help ease the opioid epidemic. 

Across the state border, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro also said the collaboration between the states and the federal agencies is important to help everyday Americans dying from the epidemic. 

"the states need more resources and the Department of Justice has stepped up to provide that and is stepping up even more so with the announcements today. With all those successes, I believe fundamentally we cannot arrest our way out of this crisis," said Shapiro. "And that as we are doing this work, we have to focus on the supply chain. 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."

In addition, A.G. Sessions announced that the DOJ is forming a new task-force, designed to help law enforcement target manufacturers and distributors- the Prescription Interdiction and Litigation Unit. 

"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. The task force will work closely with the Department of Health and Human Services. And we will coordinate with law enforcement at all levels," said Sessions. 

 A.G. Sessions continued saying, "The task force will examine potential legislative and really tory changes in existing laws. I'm also ordering the task force to examine existing state and local government lawsuits against opioid manufacturers to determine where we can be of assistance." 

Sessions also said that the DOJ will do all it can to support local law enforcement agencies- the front line of defense against the opioid epidemic. 

"I have to say, we all need to recognize that 85% of law enforcement in America are state and local officers throughout this country. They are out there every day on the frontlines and we are working with them," he finished. 

A federal prosecutor in charge of anti-opioid efforts has also been hired. 

Mary Daly previously served as an assistant U.S. Attorney in Eastern District of New York and the Eastern District of Virginia where she supervised a narcotics unit and was the opioid coordinator. 

Sessions said that over her 13 years as a federal prosecutor, Daly focused on the prosecution of transnational drug trafficking organizations. Daly will formulate and implement initiatives, policies and federal grants, and programs related to opioids and coordinate these efforts with law enforcement. 

Sessions pointed out that several other measures have already been put in place. 

"This month, the DEA placed all fentanyl analogs, not already regulated by the controls suffer just -- substances act into schedule one, the category for substances with no medical use for at least two years," said Sessions. "This makes it harder for people to acquire illicit fentanyl and easier for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute drug traffickers."
 

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