WASHINGTON — The federal government’s decision Tuesday to join lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors is a “game changer,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
DeWine, along with attorneys general from several other states, attended a press event where U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said a new federal task force not only will seek civil and criminal charges against manufacturers, but also would “examine existing state and local government lawsuits against opioid manufacturers to determine where we can be of assistance.”
Referring to “my old friend Mike DeWine of Ohio,” Sessions pledged, “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 Department of Justice will file as a “party of interest” to lawsuits initiated by Ohio and 13 other states. Dozens of lawsuits against drug makers and distributors have been consolidated before U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland, who is trying to reach a nationwide settlement.
The task force also plans to go after pain management clinics and “pill mill” doctors who over-prescribe drugs.
“The federal government has borne substantial costs as a result of the opioid crisis. The Medicare prescription drug program, for example, paid more than $4 billion for opioids in 2016,” Sessions said Tuesday.
“The hard-working taxpayers of this country deserve to be compensated by those whose illegal activity contributed to those costs. And we will go to court to ensure that the American people receive the compensation they deserve.”
The announcement took place just one day after DeWine’s office filed suit against Cardinal Health of Dublin and three other drug distributors, charging the companies “ignored their duties as drug distributors to ensure that opioids were not being diverted for improper use.” DeWine is a candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
Although Sessions was joined by seven state attorneys generals — only one of whom was a Democrat — the event clearly was designed to highlight DeWine’s role in combating opioids.
DeWine said “experts tell us that 80 percent of the people who are addicted to opiates today started with pain meds. And that’s why your action today, frankly, makes us very happy.”