Joined by “my old friend Mike DeWine of Ohio,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday the Justice Department will target manufacturers and distributors of opioids who have contributed to the epidemic sweeping Ohio and other states.
At a Justice Department news conference, Sessions announced a new federal task force not only will seek to bring civil and criminal charges against manufacturers, but also would “examine existing state and local government lawsuits against opioid manufacturers to determine where we can be of assistance.”
DeWine, the state attorney general and a candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Ohio, described Sessions’ decision to “file as a party of interest” to lawsuits initiated by Ohio and 13 other states as “a game changer.”
But the campaign of Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, who is running against DeWine for the GOP nomination, denounced DeWine’s appearance with Sessions as a “photo-op,” and charged that as attorney general he has a “poor record” curbing opiate abuse.
David Pepper, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, also dismissed the effort, saying Sessions and DeWine are “both hyper-partisan culture warriors, have outdated notions on how to handle the scourge of addiction, and as we see from the explosion of overdoses in Ohio over DeWine’s tenure as attorney general, have been utterly inept in fighting this crisis.”
The Sessions and DeWine announcement took place just one day after DeWine’s office filed suit against Cardinal Health of Dublin and three other drug distributors, charging the companies “ignored their duties as drug distributors to ensure that opioids were not being diverted for improper use,” DeWine said in a statement released Monday.
Although Sessions was joined by seven state attorneys generals — six of them Republicans — the event clearly was designed to highlight DeWine’s role in combating opioids.
DeWine said “experts tell us that 80 percent of the people who are addicted to opiates today started with pain meds. And that’s why your action today, frankly, makes us very happy.”
Ellen Barry, a Cardinal spokesman, said Monday the lawsuit was “unfounded” and said Cardinal Health “has been cooperating constructively in a good faith effort to alleviate this public health crisis and save lives.”