- In a flurry of action Thursday afternoon, the Justice Department and President Donald Trump signaled several upcoming actions to crack down on opioid abuse and addiction.
- At a White House cabinet meeting, Trump asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to "bring a major lawsuit against the drug companies on opioids." Sessions responded that the DOJ will look into the idea.
- Separately, the DOJ and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration rolled out a proposal to reduce opioid manufacturing quotas by roughly 10% for 2019. The proposal covers six Schedule II opioids, including oxycodone, fentanyl and morphine.
The news out of Washington appeared to be a mix of substance and bluster on opioids.
While Trump made headlines with no specific plan of action, executive agencies released a proposal that will have a direct impact on opioid manufacturers.
Trump floated the idea of a federal lawsuit against opioid companies that would be independent of the already numerous U.S. states that have taken legal action.
"I'd like us to look at some of the litigation that's already been started with companies," Trump told Sessions. "Rather than just joining them, I'd like to bring a federal lawsuit against those companies."
The president didn't name what companies he wanted to sue. Nor did he say what specific charges he sought. He previously suggested the idea in March.
It wouldn't be the first for the federal government, having sued Purdue Pharma in 2007. Federal prosecutors reached criminal and civil settlements with the company for $635 million and the guilty pleas to criminal conduct for three executives.
Trump also instructed Sessions to look into doing whatever the DOJ can legally do to stop China and Mexico from pushing fentanyl into the U.S. "It's almost a form of warfare," Trump noted.
Sessions said the DOJ will "absolutely" look into the topics.
"You've made clear you want us to sue and use legal process against drug companies that are abusing the law for some time now," he added.
The total back-and-forth lasted about 130 seconds. While it's unclear whether the idea will go anywhere, the dialogue provides only more bad news and legal risks for makers of opioids. The federal government is already involved in state cases, announcing its intent to file a statement of interest in February in a related multi-district action.
Earlier this week, New York state filed a suit against OxyContin (oxycodone) maker Purdue Pharma, joining at least 26 other states with action in general against the opioid industry. And an Ohio federal court consolidated more than 400 cases earlier this year with a first trial set for September 2019.
Reuters reported Thursday evening that Purdue has tapped financial restructuring advisers as its potential liabilities balloon with the outbreak of recent legal action.
Meanwhile, the DOJ and DEA rolled out proposed opioid manufacturing quotas for next year.
That proposal would make 2019 the third consecutive year with reduced quotas on popular opioids, targeting six: oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, hydromorphone, morphine and fentanyl.
As a Schedule II drug, the agencies have the ability to set the amount needed to meet the nation's legitimate needs in medicine, research, industry and export use.
Aggregate Production Quotas
|Opioid||2016||2017||2018||2019 (proposed)||YoY %||Overall Decrease|
SOURCE: Department of Justice
The proposed reduction comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated drug overdoses killed roughly 72,000 Americans last year. That figure is up nearly 7% from 2016's then-record estimate.