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AG Sessions Announces New Task Force To Combat Opioid Epidemic

Susan Walsh
Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivers remarks to the National Association of Attorneys General at their Winter Meeting in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018.

The Justice Department will support Pennsylvania officials seeking lawsuits against manufacturers and distributors of powerful opioid painkillers, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday.

Sessions said it’s the first action by the newly formed Prescription Interdiction Litigation task force, which he said will be able to pull a medical professional's license if investigators find they are prescribing above legal limits.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro was in Washington with Sessions in support of the effort, but he's urging federal lawmakers to think about addiction as a disease, not a crime.

"Which is why we have to work together to make sure that those who have accepted personal responsibilities have avenues to treatment," Shapiro said.

Last fall, Shapiro and three other state attorneys general announced an investigation into five drug manufacturers for misleading the public and doctors about the safety of their legal painkillers.

"When four out of every five heroin users start with a legal prescription drug, then the supply chain runs directly to these opioid manufacturers and distributors," Shapiro said.

According to Shapiro, about 15 Pennsylvanians die of an opioid overdose every day. 

The Trump administration has said it plans to focus intensely on fighting opioid addiction. Critics have argued their efforts fall far short of the need.

The Justice Department would collect on any settlement payout that comes from the lawsuits. Sessions said the federal government has borne substantial costs as a result of the drug crisis, which claimed more than 64,000 lives nationwide in 2016.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.