Department of Justice Announces It Will Side With Plaintiffs in Opioid Lawsuit – But Will It, Really?
Earlier this week, the current U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Sessions announced that the Department of Justice intends to file a “statement of interest” in filing its own lawsuit against opioid manufacturers. In a media statement, Sessions alleged that opioid manufacturers and distributors had used “false, deceptive, and unfair marketing” in order to market their products. He added, “The hard-working taxpayers of this country deserve to be compensated by any whose illegal activity contributed to these costs. And we will go to court to ensure that the American people receive the compensation they deserve.”
If true, this could be a major boost for approximately 400 lawsuits brought by municipal and county governments across the county, currently pending before U.S. District Judge Dan A.Polster of the Northern District of Ohio. In a seemingly hard-line statement, Sessions said, “We will use criminal penalties. We will use civil penalties. We will use whatever tools we have to hold people accountable for breaking our laws.”
That all sounds very promising, but advocates who have been pressuring the Trump Administration to follow through on his “promises” to address the opioid epidemic say Session's statement amounts to little more than chest-beating. A number of lawyers who are involved in the case or are watching the litigation unfold are in agreement. David Cattie, a defense lawyer based in the U.S. Virgin Islands who has argued a number of federal cases, is one of them. Judge Polster has been urging the parties to reach a settlement, and Cattie believes the defendants are preparing to do just that. He thinks Sessions' statement may be “the Administration’s way of signaling to pharma that it wants the companies to settle these cases for some ‘big’ number so the administration can take credit for it.”
Jesse Gessin, a leading trial lawyer and former public defender specializing in business litigation, also expressed skepticism. He believes that if Sessions was really serious about holding opioid manufacturers accountable, it would have actually joined the litigation. “The statement of interest does not make the government party to the lawsuit,” he points out. “The DEA has known for some time that the pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors were violating federal law...if the government was going to bring a criminal case, they would have brought it.” Gessin adds that since the federal government has not committed to joining the lawsuit, opioid makers aren't going to terribly concerned about criminal charges.
Sessions' announcement could conceivably give a boost to the Trump Administration's rapidly deteriorating public image however, by making it appear as if it is really taking meaningful action instead of simply making speeches and its typically empty promises.
Considering that Big Pharma has bestowed millions of dollars in campaign contributions upon candidates of both parties, skepticism of Sessions' statement is justified. On the other hand, some people, such as advocate Greg Williams of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, expressed support and optimism, saying that they “applaud the Department of Justice for getting involved in this important litigation against opioid manufacturers and distributors.” It is worth noting that opioid manufacturers have donated more than $10 million to patient advocacy groups last year, according to a recent Senate investigation.
Sessions’ “tough talk” may placate some people, but considering that Trump and his cronies turned their backs on the American People to serve corporate interests practically from the moment they took power, it is more likely that the DoJ's statement is little more than “a tale told by an idiot...full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”