The Justice Department said Tuesday it will support local officials in hundreds of lawsuits 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.
The Trump administration has said it is focusing intensely on fighting drug addiction, but critics say its efforts fall short of what is needed. Trump signed off this month on a bipartisan budget deal to provide a record $6 billion over the next two years to fight opioids, but it’s not yet decided how that will be allocated.
The statement of interest was the latest move by the Justice Department, which has also sought to crack down on black market drug peddlers and doctors who negligently prescribe.
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.