The U.S. Department of Justice said Monday it wants to participate in settlement talks in a federal court case involving hundreds of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
On Monday, the Justice Department filed a “friend of the court” motion in the litigation before a Cleveland federal judge. A “friend of the court” is not direct party to the case, but provides information and expertise.
“We are formally seeking to provide the federal government’s expertise and legal counsel to the court on a potential settlement,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “We are determined to see justice is done in this case and that ultimately we end this nation’s unprecedented drug crisis.”
If participation is granted by the court, the Justice Department will seek to advise the court on the national consequences of a settlement and any legal obligation of settling parties to reimburse the federal treasury.
The Justice Department has already filed a statement of interest in the case arguing that taxpayers should be reimbursed because of heavy cost of the opioid crisis to the U.S. Government. A report released last month estimated the opioid crisis has cost more than $1 trillion in health care and law enforcement expenses largely paid for by the federal government.
More than 400 cities and counties across the country have joined the lawsuit seeking reimbursement for costs associated with opioid addiction.
In February, Mr. Sessions announced the creation of a new task force to target the manufacturers and distributors of prescription painkillers. The Prescription Interdiction and Litigation, or PIL Task Force, will review all available criminal and civil penalties against opioid producers for any illegal activities. It will also examine puling the licenses of any pharmacist or physician who illegally prescribes opioids.
There were 64,000 fatal drug overdoes in the United States in 2016, the highest number ever recorded, according to the Justice Department. . Preliminary data indicates that 2017 will have even more overdose deaths. Most of the deaths are related to opioids, including prescription painkillers, illegal drugs such as heroin, and synthetic products such as fentanyl.