New Initiatives Announced By DOJ In Opioid Response
By: John A. Schwab
With the opioid crisis showing no signs of abating, Department of Justice officials are undoubtedly feeling pressure to take additional steps to address it. The Trump Department of Justice has taken several steps over the past year including, in August 2017, the creation of the Opioid Fraud & Abuse Detection Unit to target opioid-related over-prescribing and healthcare fraud through the use of data analytics. The Unit enlisted government attorneys and agents from the hardest-hit jurisdictions in the United States, including western Pennsylvania and southern West Virginia.
More recently, in December 2017, the DOJ created a director-level role at DOJ dedicated solely to opioid enforcement, titled “Director of Opioid Enforcement and Prevention Efforts.” Long-time DOJ prosecutor, Mary Daly, is in that position.
Just last week, DOJ announced two new initiatives regarding opioid enforcement:
- July 11, 2018: DOJ announced the finalization of regulatory steps designed to improve the DEA’s ability to reduce drug diversion through control of opioid production. Initially announced in April, the DEA will be empowered to limit the amount of opioids that manufacturers produce in a given year if the DEA believes that a particular opioid or a particular company’s opioids are being diverted for misuse. The regulation also requires DEA to share notices of proposed production limits to state attorneys general. In certain instances, it also allows for a hearing to resolve an issue of fact raised by a state in objection to production limits if related to a legitimate United States’ need.
- July 12, 2018: DOJ announced Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge (“S.O.S.”), a new program to reduce the supply of synthetic opioids in jurisdictions hardest hit by the opioid crisis. Through Operation S.O.S., DOJ will launch an enforcement “surge” in ten federal judicial districts with some of United States’ highest drug overdose death rates. The surge will involve a coordinated DEA Special Operations Division operation to insure that leads from street-level cases are used to identify large scale distributors. Additionally, the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (“OCDETF”) Executive Office will provide additional Assistant U.S. Attorneys to each participating district to assist with these prosecutions. The ten districts participating in Operation S.O.S. include the Western District of Pennsylvania, Northern and Southern Districts of West Virginia, and Northern and Southern Districts of Ohio.
Obviously, the Department of Justice – and the Trump Administration as a whole – is identifying new strategies and initiatives to address the opioid crisis. We undoubtedly haven’t seen the last initiative on this important topic.