By Pat Anson, Editor
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced the creation of a new task force targeting manufacturers and distributors of opioid pain medication, as well as physicians and pharmacies engaged in the “unlawful” prescribing of opioids.
“We are attacking this crisis at its root: the diversion and overprescription of opioid painkillers,” Sessions said at a news conference. “We will use criminal penalties. We will use civil penalties. We will use whatever tools we have to hold people accountable for breaking our laws.”
Sessions also said the Justice Department would file a “statement of interest” in hundreds of lawsuits filed by states, counties and cities seeking to recover billions of dollars in damages from opioid manufacturers who used deceptive marketing practices. Such a statement could result in the federal government joining as a party in the lawsuits and recovering damages.
Sessions said the government had borne “substantial costs” as a result of the opioid crisis, including $4 billion paid by Medicare for opioid pain medication in 2016.
“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,” Sessions said.
“These are not our last steps. We will continue to attack the opioid crisis from every angle. And we will continue to work tirelessly to bring down the number of opioid prescriptions, reduce the number of fatal overdoses, and to protect the American people.”
Sessions’ announcement avoided any mention of the growing scourge of black market opioids, such as heroin, illicit fentanyl and counterfeit medication, which are now responsible for most overdose deaths. He also did not acknowledge that opioid prescribing has been declining for several years and that less than one percent of legally prescribed opioids are diverted.
The new task force – called the Prescription Interdiction & Litigation (PIL) Task Force -- will include senior officials from the Attorney General’s Office and the Drug Enforcement Administration. It appears to be focused solely on prescription opioids.
“The PIL Task Force will use the criminal and civil tools available under the Controlled Substances Act against doctors, pharmacies, and others that break the law,” the DOJ said in a statement.
Sessions directed the task force to improve coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services – which includes the FDA, CDC and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) – in sharing healthcare data to identify “patterns of fraud related to the opioid epidemic.”
The Attorney General's single-minded focus on pain medication as the cause of the opioid crisis has angered many pain patients and advocates.
"I am operating on the assumption that this country prescribes too many opioids," Sessions said during a speech earlier this month. "People need to take some aspirin sometimes and tough it out.”
“I hope Sessions falls down, hits his head and breaks a hip and has to take two aspirin and get over it,” wrote one PNN reader.
“Jeff Sessions is an instrument of hate. He has succeeded in driving a wedge through the most sacred trusts -- the relationships between doctors and patients. Doctors now fear and loathe their patients for putting their licenses at risk, and patients fear and loathe their doctors for abandoning their compassionate care plans,” wrote another reader.
"This is exactly why we don't need, a group of people that know nothing about what they are making laws for. Jeff Sessions, if you or one of your family had Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, you would never have made a fool out of yourself with your aspirin remarks," said another.