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Attorney General Sessions Announces New Task Force to Fight Drug Epidemic

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WASHINGTON–  Attorney General Jeff Sessions today announced the creation of a new effort, the Department of Justice Prescription Interdiction & Litigation (PIL) Task Force, to fight the prescription opioid crisis.

The PIL Task Force will aggressively deploy and coordinate all available criminal and civil law enforcement tools to reverse the tide of opioid overdoses in the United States, with a particular focus on opioid manufacturers and distributors.

“Over the past year, the Department has vigorously fought the prescription opioid crisis, and we are determined to continue making progress. Today, we are opening a new front in the war on the opioid crisis by bringing all of our anti-opioid efforts under one banner,” said Attorney General Sessions.  “We have no time to waste.  Every day, 180 Americans die from drug overdoses.  This epidemic actually lowered American life expectancy in 2015 and 2016 for the first time in decades, with drug overdose now the leading cause of death for Americans under age 50.  These are not acceptable trends and this new task force will make us more effective in reversing them and saving Americans from the scourge of opioid addiction.”

The PIL Task Force will include senior officials from the offices of the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, and the Associate Attorney General, as well as senior officials from the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, the Civil Division, the Criminal Division, and the Drug Enforcement Administration.   The Task Force will coordinate the Department’s many efforts and tools to combat the opioid epidemic.

The PIL Task Force will combat the opioid crisis at every level of the distribution system.  At the manufacturer level, the PIL Task Force will use all available criminal and civil remedies available under federal law to hold opioid manufacturers accountable for unlawful practices.  The PIL Task Force will build on and strengthen existing Department of Justice initiatives to ensure that opioid manufacturers are marketing their products truthfully and in accordance with Food and Drug Administration rules.

The Attorney General has also directed the PIL Task Force to examine existing state and local government lawsuits against opioid manufacturers to determine what assistance, if any, federal law can provide in those lawsuits.  The federal government has borne substantial costs from the opioid crisis, and it must be compensated by any party whose illegal activity contributed to those costs.

The Department will also use all criminal and civil tools at its disposal to hold distributors such as pharmacies, pain management clinics, drug testing facilities, and individual physicians accountable for unlawful actions.

The PIL Task Force will use criminal and civil actions to ensure that distributors and pharmacies are obeying Drug Enforcement Administration rules designed to prevent diversion and improper prescribing.  It will use the False Claims Act and other tools to crack down on pain-management clinics, drug testing facilities, and physicians that make opioid prescriptions.

The PIL Task Force will use the criminal and civil tools available under the Controlled Substances Act against doctors, pharmacies, and others that break the law.  The PIL Task Force will build upon and expand the efforts of the existing Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit.  Created in August 2017, the Unit uses sophisticated data analysis to identify and prosecute individuals who are contributing to the opioid epidemic, including pill-mill schemes and pharmacies that unlawfully divert or dispense prescription opioids for illegitimate purposes.

The PIL Task Force will also work closely with the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate and hold accountable any parties who engage in illegal activity surrounding prescription opioids.  The Attorney General has directed the PIL Task Force to establish immediately a working group to:  (1) improve coordination and data sharing across the federal government to better identify violations of law and patterns of fraud related to the opioid epidemic; (2) evaluate possible changes to the regulatory regime governing opioid distribution; and (3) recommend changes in laws.

This new Task Force will build on a number of new initiatives begun by Attorney General Sessions over the past year that will help us end the drug crisis, including the following:

  • In July, the Attorney General announced charges against more than 120 defendants, including doctors, for crimes related to prescribing or distributing opioids and other dangerous narcotics.
  • One week later, the Attorney General announced the seizure of AlphaBay, the largest criminal marketplace on the Internet.  This site hosted some 220,000 drug listings – including more than 100 vendors advertising fentanyl – and was responsible for countless synthetic opioid overdoses, including the tragic death of a 13-year old in Utah.
  • In August, the Attorney General created the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, a new data analytics program to help find evidence of overprescribing and opioid-related health care fraud.
  • The Attorney General then assigned 12 experienced Assistant United States Attorneys to opioid “hot-spots” to focus solely on investigating and prosecuting opioid-related health care fraud. By November they had begun issuing indictments.
  • In October, the Department announced the first-ever indictments of Chinese nationals and their North American-based traffickers and distributers for separate conspiracies to distribute fentanyl and other opioids in the United States.
  • Also in October, the DEA announced the establishment of six new enforcement teams focused on combatting the flow of heroin and illicit fentanyl into the U.S. These enforcement teams are based in communities facing some of the most significant challenges with heroin and fentanyl.
  • In 2017, the DEA held two of its National Prescription Drug Takeback Days, when people can dispose of unnecessary and potentially dangerous drugs with no questions asked. In total, DEA took a record 956 tons of drugs out of American communities.
  • In January 2018, the Department announced a new resource to target traffickers who sell drugs online called J-CODE: Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement team.  The J-CODE team will coordinate efforts across the FBI’s offices all around the world – bringing together DEA, our Safe Streets Task Forces, drug trafficking task forces, Health Care Fraud Special Agents, and other assets – effectively doubling the FBI’s investment into fighting against online drug trafficking.
  • Also in January 2018, the DEA announced a 45-day surge of Special Agents, Diversion Investigators, and Intelligence Research Specialists to focus on pharmacies and prescribers who are dispensing unusual or disproportionate amounts of drugs.
  • On February 7, 2018, the DEA placed all fentanyl analogues not already regulated by the Controlled Substances Act into Schedule I – the category for substances with no currently accepted medical use – for at least two years.  This makes it harder for people to acquire illicit fentanyl and easier for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute drug traffickers.
  • The Department anticipates filing a statement of interest in the coming days in a multi-district action regarding hundreds of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors.


Tyler Barker

Tyler is the Chief Meteorologist & Digital Content Manager for WOAY-TV. You can find him weekdays at 5, 6, and 11 pm on WOAY-TV. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @wxtylerb. Have any news tips or weather questions? Email me at tbarker@woay.com


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