By Sy Mukherjee
February 28, 2018

The U.S. Department of Justice is wading into a hot button case centered on what’s become one of the most significant medical crises of modern times: The prescription painkiller and opioid overdose epidemic.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Tuesday that the Justice Department will issue a “statement of interest” in a blockbuster lawsuit centered on opioid drug makers–and the companies which distribute the treatments—based in Ohio. In essence, that means the federal government is showing a tangible interest in propping up suits which target both opioid manufacturers and distributors who are accused of using misleading marketing practices to prop up potentially addictive products. And the legal wrangling, based in a federal district court in Cleveland that combines hundreds of complaints across the country, wraps up big names like McKesson, Cardinal Health, OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, and others.

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The government doesn’t actually become a plaintiff when issuing a statement of interest in these cases. But such statements do indicate the government’s priorities on matters that affect the federal enterprise. (To be clear: All of these companies involved deny wrongdoing and say they are dedicated to fighting the opioid epidemic.)

Here’s what the Attorney General said, as the New York Times reports, during a press conference on Tuesday, about a planned move to create a task force to examine opioid makers and distributors and the local lawsuits launched against them: “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.”

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