DOJ Creates Task Force to Combat Opioid Epidemic

Liz Carey

Washington, DC ( – Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week the Justice Department will create a new task force to target opioid manufacturers and distributors, and hold them accountable for the country’s opioid epidemic.

Session’s announcement comes as hundreds of states, counties and cities await the ruling of a federal judge as to whether or not the Drug Enforcement Agency must release years’ worth of data on opioids that poured into communities all across the country.

Sessions said the Justice Department also filed a statement of interest in that case, arguing that the federal government has paid its share of costs because of the opioid epidemic, and that it will seek reimbursement, as the cities, counties and states hold pharmaceutical companies and their distributors accountable for allegedly using false, deceptive and unfair marketing tactics.

“Today our nation is facing the deadliest drug epidemic in our history,” Sessions said in his speech. “And make no mistake, this is not business as usual. It is the resolute policy of this Administration and this Department of Justice to reduce these overdose deaths, to reduce addiction, and to reduce the amount of prescription opioids in this county.”

“In 2016, an estimated 64,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses,” he said. “That is the highest ever recorded in our history, and follows a record increase in fatal overdoses. Preliminary data suggest that 2017 was even worse — albeit with a much smaller increase. The vast majority of these deaths are the result of opioids — prescription painkillers, heroin, and deadly new synthetic drugs like fentanyl.

Sessions said that in addition to work already done in 2017 to identify and prosecute online drug dealers and opioid “hot spots,” he would continue the work in 2018 through criminal and civil litigation.

“Today I am announcing the Prescription Interdiction & Litigation — or PIL — Task Force. The PIL Task Force will focus in particular on targeting opioid manufacturers and distributors who have contributed to this epidemic, he said. “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… I am also ordering the Task Force to examine existing state and local government lawsuits against opioid manufacturers to determine if we can be of assistance.”

In October, President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency, but it seems little has been done since then. In January of this year, the declaration was extended.

“This is further evidence of the Trump administration’s strong, ongoing commitment to addressing this crisis and protecting the health and well-being of the American people,” an HHS spokesperson said at the time, according to multiple news sources.

Public health experts, however, said the administration produced very little in the way of action since declaring the national emergency. At the time of the extension, no new funding had been identified to help states respond to the crisis, and the administration had yet to launch a major media campaign, that was part of the national emergency announcement.

Additionally, Trump proposed cutting the Office National Drug Control’s budget by as much as 95 percent, and move two departments within the office — the Drug Free Communities Support Program and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program — into the Health and Human Services Department and the Justice Department.

Outside of the emergency declaration, the administration has updated guidance on how states can expand access to inpatient treatment under Medicaid, advancing research into non-opioid pain medication at the National Institute for Health and clarifying how doctors can share substance abuse information without violating privacy laws.

Separately, the Center for Disease Control has launched their own public education campaign on addiction.