The Justice Department says it will support local officials in hundreds of lawsuits against manufacturers and distributors of powerful opioid painkillers that are fueling the drug abuse crisis in the US.
A new US federal task force will target prescription drugmakers and distributors as officials step up efforts to combat the opioid crisis, the Justice Department announced on Tuesday.
The department said it would also move to recover funds in legal actions brought by local governments that seek to make drugmakers pay for the cost of responding to the crisis, which the department said kills nearly 200 Americans a day.
"This epidemic actually lowered American life expectancy in 2015 and 2016 for the first time in decades, with drug overdose now the leading cause of death for Americans under age 50," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.
"These are not acceptable trends and this new task force will make us more effective in reversing them and saving Americans from the scourge of opioid addiction."
Senior Justice Department officials will join the Drug Enforcement Administration to investigate and prosecute drug industry actors - including pain management clinics, drug testing facilities and prescribing doctors - while ensuring prescription opioid marketing follows federal rules.
The new Prescription, Interdiction and Litigation, or PIL, task force will use fraud-on-the-government and whistleblower statutes to make manufacturers and distributors pay, the Justice Department said.
The task force follows the August launch of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit.
Sessions said on Friday that the Justice Department would argue in court that the opioid crisis has drained the resources of federal health programs and law enforcement.
"We will seek to hold accountable those whose illegality has cost us billions of taxpayer dollars," Sessions said in a statement.