WASHINGTON — President Trump spoke Monday of using federal prosecutors to pursue “major litigation” against drug manufacturers alleged to have played a role in creating a nationwide epidemic of opioid abuse.
Speaking in New Hampshire at the White House’s rollout of a national opioids strategy, the president expanded upon a Department of Justice release last month in which Attorney General Jeff Sessions pledged to “hold accountable those whose illegality has cost us billions of taxpayer dollars.”
“Our Department of Justice is looking very seriously into bringing major litigation against some of these drug companies,” Trump said. “We will bring it at a federal level. Some states are already bringing it, but we are thinking about bringing it at a very high federal level, and we will do a job.”
DOJ filed a statement of interest on March 1 in a federal court in Ohio, asking the judge collectively overseeing hundreds of opioid-related lawsuits to allow federal lawyers 30 days to decide whether the United States would participate in the legal proceedings.
Manufacturers, including Purdue, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Insys, Janssen, and Teva, have faced scrutiny and often aggressive legal action from state and local governments seeking compensation for what many plaintiffs allege are the costs resulting from the companies’ disingenuous marketing tactics. In 2006, Purdue and several high-ranking executives paid a collective $635 million in fines pertaining to the marketing of its opioid painkiller, OxyContin, which understated the drug’s addictiveness.
Sessions’ threat to add DOJ resources to existing legal actions against manufacturers and distributors comes after a year of enforcement-side actions from the Trump administration, including crackdowns on fentanyl importation and an increased focus on opioid dealer and distribution networks across the country and overseas.
The president also name-checked two drug companies that manufacture various forms of the overdose-reversal drug naloxone: Adapt Pharma, which makes the nasally administered Narcan, and Kaleo, which makes Evzio, an automatic injector that has drawn scrutiny for its price tag but drew congratulations from Trump for having distributed more than 300,000 units for free.
After inviting Mike Kelly, the president of Adapt’s U.S. operations, to join him on stage, Trump announced the company’s plan to provide four Narcan kits to each college campus in the U.S. and two to each high school.