President Donald Trump suggested that a federal lawsuit against opioid manufacturers may be on the horizon at a meeting on the opioid crisis on Thursday.
The president said he's spoken with Attorney General Jeff Sessions about bringing a lawsuit against companies, adding that the administration will be rolling out more policies over the next three weeks. States led by both Democrats and Republicans are suing wholesalers and drugmakers for their involvement in the epidemic.
“Hopefully, we can do some litigation against the opioid companies. I think it's very important because a lot of states are doing it, but I keep saying, if the states are doing it, why isn't the federal government doing it? So that will happen,” Trump said.
On Feb. 27, DOJ announced it plans to file a statement of interest in a multi-district action for hundreds of opioid-related lawsuits. "The Justice Department will primarily argue that the federal government — through various federal health programs and law enforcement efforts — has borne substantial costs from the opioid epidemic and seeks reimbursement," the press release announcing the plan states.
And the Justice Department unveiled a memo this week written by Sessions directing the Drug Enforcement Agency to evaluate if it should change regulations around the aggregate production “where appropriate as expeditiously as practicable, including through a potential interim final rule.”
DOJ says the memo is in response to studies showing the U.S. has far more opioids prescribed each year than other countries.
Trump also alluded to bringing death penalty charges against drug dealers pushing opioids at the White House meeting. “Some countries have a very tough penalty, the ultimate penalty and they have much less of a drug problem than we do,” he said.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan bill to boost funding and put limits on prescriptions was unveiled and the Government Accountability Office agreed to probe the Trump administration’s response at the request of Senate Democrats.
The White House opioid summit comes as lawmakers work to hammer out bipartisan legislation to address the emergency.
Earlier this week, a group of bipartisan lawmakers unveiled what they billed as the CARA 2.0 Act, a follow- up to the Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act, which became law in July 2016.
The proposed legislation would increase funding authorization to fight the opioid crisis to align with the recently-passed budget deal, which included $6 billion for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.
In addition it would:
- Put in place a three-day limit for initial opioid prescriptions for acute pain.
- Permanently allow physician assistants and nurse practitioners under a physician to prescribe buprenorphine.
- Allow states to lift the cap on the number of patients a doctor can treat with buprenorphine.
- Require pharmacists and physicians to use their state prescription drug monitoring program when prescribing opioids.
- Increase civil and criminal penalties for opioid manufacturers.
- Create a national standard for recovery housing for those in long-term recovery.
The bill would authorize funding for: a $10 million “National Education Campaign” aimed at communicating the dangers of opioids; $300 million to expand first responder training and access to naloxone; $300 million to expand evidence-based medication-assisted treatment; and $200 million for a national framework for recovery support services to transition people from treatment to long-term recovery; and more.
In response to to a request from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, and Ranking Member of the HELP Committee Patty Murray, D-WA, the GAO agreed to open a probe into the Trump administration’s response to the opioid crisis.
"GAO accepts your request as work that is within the scope of its authority. At the current time we anticipate that staff with the required skills will be available to initiate an engagement in about six months," Orice Williams Brown, GAO managing director for congressional relations wrote in a Feb. 26 letter to the senators obtained by Healthcare Dive.
The lawmakers wrote to GAO Jan. 31 requesting a review of actions taken by the Trump administration since it declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in October.
"Given the severity of the crisis, we have grown increasingly concerned by reports that the President has done little to make use of his public health emergency declaration, leaving state and local communities without the resources they need to fight the opioid epidemic," the senators wrote.
Trump’s FY 2019 proposed budget calls for $5 billion over five years in new resources to fight the opioid epidemic, but critics have argued the administration’s response to the crisis has been inadequate, saying that a national emergency designation is needed to release more funding.