Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed by local jurisdictions against manufacturers and distributors of powerful opioid painkillers that are fueling the nation’s drug abuse crisis.
The move is part of a broader effort to more aggressively target prescription drugmakers for their role in the epidemic, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. The Justice Department will file a statement of interest in the multidistrict lawsuit, arguing the federal government has borne substantial costs as a result of the crisis that claimed more than 64,000 lives in 2016.
It could increase the role of the federal government in talks aimed at reaching a settlement between government entities, drugmakers, distributors and others. A federal judge in Cleveland is overseeing the talks as an attempt to resolve the case rather than hold a trial involving more than 370 plaintiffs, mostly county and local governments. The talks also include a group of about 40 states that are conducting a joint investigation of the crisis but which have not yet sued, as well as states that have sued in state courts.
Targets of the lawsuits include drugmakers such as Allergan, Johnson & Johnson, and Purdue Pharma, and the three large drug distribution companies, Amerisource Bergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson.
Any settlement deal could include billions of dollars in payments that could be used for treatment programs, abuse prevention and to cover some of the costs incurred by government dealing with the crisis.
Read the Associated Press story in ABCNews
In a related story, a Michigan doctor linked to a federal investigation into allegations that Arizona-based Insys Therapeutics Inc. paid kickbacks to medical practitioners to prescribe its flagship opioid product was sentenced on Monday to 32 months in prison.
Gavin Awerbuch, 59, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow in Detroit after admitting that he wrote prescriptions for Insys’ fentanyl-based cancer pain medication Subsys for non-legitimate uses and committed health care fraud.
Awerbuch is one of several doctors whose interactions with Insys have formed the basis of an indictment brought by federal prosecutors in Boston against several former company executives, including billionaire founder John Kapoor.
Prosecutors have accused Kapoor, ex-Insys Chief Executive Michael Babich and five other former executives and managers of conspiring to bribe doctors to prescribe Subsys and to defraud insurers into paying for it.
They have pleaded not guilty. Insys has said it may need to pay at least $150 million to resolve the U.S. Justice Department’s probe.
Read more on this continuing story from Reuters