President Donald Trump said Thursday he wants the U.S. government to sue pharmaceutical companies that manufacture opioids as part of his efforts to halt an epidemic of drug addiction.
Trump said he’d like to bring a federal lawsuit, rather than just join existing litigation against the drugmakers.
“Some states have done it,” Trump said during a Cabinet meeting at the White House. “But I’d like a lawsuit to be brought against these companies that are really sending opioids at a level — it shouldn’t be happening. So highly addictive. People go into a hospital with a broken arm, they come out, they’re a drug addict.”
Drugmakers such as Purdue Pharma LP and Johnson & Johnson that sell opioid painkillers face hundreds of lawsuits filed by states, cities, counties, Native American tribes and labor unions as the epidemic of addiction continues to rage in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said preliminary estimates indicate that almost 72,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses last year, a figure that has been rising for years.
Trump didn’t offer more detail on a possible a lawsuit.
“Purdue shares the president’s concern about the opioid crisis,” the Stamford, Connecticut-based drugmaker said in a statement. “While our opioid medicines account for less than 2 percent of total prescriptions, Purdue is committed to working collaboratively with those affected by this public health crisis on meaningful solutions to help stem the tide of opioid-related overdose deaths.”
Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote Aug. 3 to opioid manufacturers Purdue, Insys Therapeutics Inc. and Mallinckrodt Plc, asking about their role in the epidemic. Lawmakers have also focused on pharmaceutical distributors such as McKesson Corp. and Cardinal Health Inc.
J&J, Insys, Mallinckrodt and the Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Trump also asked the Justice Department to address the flow of synthetic opioids from China. The drugs have played an increasing role in overdose deaths in the U.S. as users turn from prescribed pills to often illicitly obtained compounds from overseas, manufactured from a variety of producers.
Trump asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to do “whatever you can do from a legal standpoint, whether it’s litigation, lawsuits, with people and companies.”
“In China you have some pretty big companies sending that garbage and killing our people,” Trump said. “It’s almost a form of warfare. And I’d like to do whatever you can do legally to stop it from China and from Mexico.”
Sessions said that the Justice Department had identified companies shipping some of the illegal drugs and was taking action.
“We’re returning indictments now against distributors from China,” Sessions told Trump, though he added that some of the imports were still coming in through smuggling.
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