The opioid epidemic is on its way to becoming the greatest public health crisis in U.S. history. Since 1999, it has caused approximately 633,000 deaths. More than 100 people die from opioid overdoses every day.
The epidemic/crisis has broad implications for legal employment. It has led to a sudden strong demand for lawyers to prosecute, defend, regulate, and counsel clients on opioid and related matters.
Legislation: Federal and state laws and regulations with respect to prescriptions, use, storage, disbursement and liability vary tremendously. In addition, they have been in great flux as the epidemic proliferates. At least 56 measures are moving through Congress at this writing. The omnibus spending bill passed and signed by the President provided $4 billion to fight opioid abuse. State legislatures have also been busy legislating with respect to opioids. In 2017, 47 states and the District of Columbia enacted new laws designed to combat the crisis. They have not let up in 2018. Thus far, 31 states and DC have enacted more than 90 new laws.
In the Courts: The number of lawsuits filed against pharmaceutical companies by hundreds of states and municipalities is rapidly mounting. As of June 2018, more than 600 state, county, and city governments have filed opioid-related lawsuits. At the same time, claims against physicians and other medical professionals are skyrocketing. Potential defendants are desperate for compliance and avoidance strategies. Class actions are growing in volume.
Agency Involvement: The number of government agencies that play a role in combatting the epidemic is vast. At the federal level, it includes the Food & Drug Administration, https://www.fda.gov/ the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://cdc.gov the Office of National Drug Control Policy, https://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp and the Departments of Veterans Affairs, https://va.gov Justice, https://justice.gov Health and Human Services, https://hhs.gov and Homeland Security, https://dhs.gov. State Attorneys General and Health Departments’ law offices are also committing an infusion of resources to this crisis. Municipal legal and law enforcement agencies are following suit.
Task Forces: Opioid task forces have been created at every governmental level as well as by nonprofits. Many are staffing up with attorneys and other professionals. In addition to its own Federal Prescription Interdiction & Litigation Task Force https://justice.gov/opa/pr/attorney-general-sessions-announces-new-prescription-interdiction-litigation-task-force, the Justice Department’s Drug Enforcement Administration supports 271 state and local task forces https://dea.gov/divisions/hq/2018/hq032618.shtml.