The Department of Justice is filing a statement of interest in the opioid lawsuits against distributors and manufacturers, arguing that the federal government should be reimbursed for the significant costs it has borne from the crisis.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the statement of interest, arguing American taxpayers deserved compensation.
“The hard-working taxpayers of this country deserve to be compensated by those whose illegal activity contributed to those costs,” Sessions said at a press conference. “And we will go to court to ensure that the American people receive the compensation they deserve.”
The statement will be filed in the multidistrict litigation that has brought together hundreds of opioid lawsuits from cities and municipalities. The litigation is being overseen by a federal judge, Dan Polster, in Cleveland, Ohio.
Manufacturers and distributors have been blamed by some for fueling the prescription painkiller and heroin epidemic. The rate of overdose deaths is increasing, jumping nearly 28 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
Sessions also announced the creation of the Prescription Interdiction and Litigation Task Force, which will have a particular focus on targeting opioid manufacturers and distributors that could be contributing to the epidemic.
“We will use criminal penalties. We will use civil penalties,” Sessions said. “We will use whatever tools we have to hold people accountable for breaking our laws.”
The task force will also examine the lawsuits brought by state and local governments “to determine if we can be of assistance,” he said.