The Department of Justice has established a Prescription Interdiction & Litigation Task Force to deploy and coordinate criminal and civil law enforcement tools to tackle the opioid epidemic, 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,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
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 Justice Department initiatives to ensure that opioid manufacturers are marketing their products truthfully and in accordance with Food and Drug Administration rules, the Justice Department stated.
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 said it 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:
Improve coordination and data sharing across the federal government to better identify violations of law and patterns of fraud related to the opioid epidemic;
Evaluate possible changes to the regulatory regime governing opioid distribution; and
Recommend changes in laws.
This new Task Force will build on a number of new initiatives begun by Sessions over the past year intended to help the Justice Department end the drug crisis. Among these efforts:
The Attorney General in July 2017 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.
In August 2017, 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 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 Feb. 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, making it harder for people to acquire illicit fentanyl and easier for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute drug traffickers
Also, this week, the Department filed a Statement of Interest in a multi-district action regarding hundreds of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors.