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Trib editorial: Justice ramps up in opioid crisis

| Sunday, March 4, 2018, 9:00 p.m.

Westmoreland County's lawsuit against U.S. drug manufacturers, aimed at recouping public money spent as a result of the opioid epidemic, could gain a potent dose of federal muscle.

The Department of Justice has announced that it will support what's shaping up to be enormous litigation brought by hundreds of cities and municipalities against opioid producers and distributors to recoup losses attributed to deceptive marketing practices. A multi-district lawsuit could well mirror the multibillion-dollar litigation filed against Big Tobacco.

The announcement followed Justice's unveiling of a new task force that will focus federal scrutiny on opioid producers, which may have acted negligently or criminally in the production and marketing of highly addictive drugs, according to The Washington Free Beacon.

Both announcements follow a Senate report that major manufacturers of opioids paid approximately $9 million to advocacy groups to encourage opioid-drug prescriptions, such as for oxycodone, without due attention to their addictive nature. The new Justice task force will focus on Big Pharma along with smaller so-called “pill mills.” Last December the federal Drug Enforcement Administration seized almost 500,000 pills in a single operation.

Almost 64,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, the latest year with complete data. By some accounts, the roots of the current crisis date back 20 years. Increased federal scrutiny and engagement is encouraging. Sadly, it's also long overdue.

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