Washington, D.C. – In a notable change of direction for the Trump administration, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a Justice Department-led task force that will target the opioid manufacturers and distributors that have wreaked havoc on towns and cities across the country. The Prescription Interdiction & Litigation Task Force, Sessions said, “will use whatever laws and tools we have to hold people accountable if they break our laws.” The announcement comes amidst the deadliest drug crisis in U.S. history.

Hundreds of counties, cities and towns across the country have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies over the aggressive and fraudulent marketing of prescription opioid painkillers. Such lawsuits seek relief in the form of compensatory and punitive damages for the millions of dollars spent locally each year to combat the public scourge created by the drug companies’ deceptive marketing campaigns. These campaigns misrepresent the safety and efficacy of long-term opioid use. Many of these lawsuits have been combined into a multi-district litigation (MDL) hearing, which consolidates like-suits before one federally appointed judge.

The Justice Department acknowledged the ongoing MDL in which hundreds of lawsuits nationwide have been filed against a handful of so-called “Big Pharma” companies: Purdue Pharma L.P.; Purdue Pharma, Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Cephalon, Inc.; Johnson& Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutica, Inc.; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Insys Therapeutics, Inc.

Simmons Hanly Conroy, one of the nation’s largest law firms specializing in consumer protection, has been leading the charge for justice against these companies. Firm shareholder Paul Hanly Jr., who is also chairman of complex litigation, has been appointed co-lead of the opioid MDL. “We are hopeful that the U.S. will work cooperatively with the other plaintiffs in the MDL to ensure a just result for all,” Hanly said in response to the DOJ’s announcement. Simmons Hanly Conroy has filed over 190 lawsuits nationwide against pharmaceutical companies involved in the opioid crisis.

By using criminal and civil law, including the False Claims Act and Controlled Substances Act, federal prosecutors of the newly enacted task force are also seeking reimbursement in the Ohio MDL for the “substantial costs” the government has incurred as a result of the drug epidemic.

It is these reckless business practices that have led to a national crisis in which more than half a million people have died from drug overdoses between 2000 and 2015.

In the Robert F. Kennedy Main Justice Building in Washington, D.C., Attorney General Sessions acknowledged the grim numbers. He reported that 2016 saw the highest number of fatal drug overdoses in American history: 64,000. He then noted that in all likelihood 2017 would see even more overdose deaths.

State attorneys general were present at the task-force announcement. Pennsylvania’s Josh Shapiro added to the statistics, saying, “I believe that these opioid painkillers have been the jet fuel to this crisis.” According to Shapiro, 15 Pennsylvania residents die each day from overdose.

Given these figures, and the enormous toll the opioid crisis has taken on local communities across the country, it is vital for more counties and municipalities to act. Lawsuits have already been filed in New York, Louisiana, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Pennsylvania and many others. Nearly every month, the list grows.

“Communities around the country have concluded that the defendant drug companies must be held responsible for their conspirator and fraudulent actions and the injuries and costs that have resulted from the opioid epidemic,” said Hanly. “The defendants have manufactured, promoted and marketed opioids by omitting critical information that has long been known about the drugs’ addictive qualities and other risks associated with their prolonged use.”

See the full press release from Law360 here: DOJ Unveils Opioid Task Force, Eyes Foray Into Ohio MDL

Since the announcement, news of the task force and statement of interest in the opioid MDL has been making headlines. A compilation of the articles is below.

Attorney General Sessions Announces New Prescription Interdiction & Litigation Task Force, Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs

Attorney General: New Opioid Task Force to Target Drug Makers, Erik Rosales, CBNNews.com

US Task Force Will Target Opioid Crisis ‘At It’s Root’, Masood Farivar, VOA News

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announces new opioid task force to target drug manufacturers, distributors who fuel prescription painkiller epidemic, Dan Mangan, CNBC