This week the Justice Department made a big move that could be a game changer for the nation’s opioid crisis. According to Cleveland.com, the DOJ will make a large swath of data on painkillers available, hoping the intel will be used in the fight against big pharma.
The DOJ has made its position clear when it comes to chasing after the legal makers and distributors of these drugs. Attorney General Jeff Sessions even went so far to create an Opioid Fraud Unit in order to target 12 federal districts the DOJ believes have been hardest hit by the opioid epidemic. The Opioid Fraud Unit uses data to find and target doctors or clinics they suspect are overprescribing opioids. They also want to go after pharmacists who are not properly distributing the pills. But with the release of this new data, they are hoping to help with settlement talks between the drug companies and the local governments suing them over the nation’s opioid epidemic.
The Long Fight for Data
The actual data itself comes from the Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS) and is collected by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Previous administrations were pressured to release the data as far back as 10 years ago, just as the opioid crisis was gaining steam in the national media. However, the government opposed the data release saying it could jeopardize ongoing criminal investigations and breach confidentiality – until now.
What The Numbers Show
This data includes a list of drug companies that manufacture and distribute 95% of the opioids. The information is broken down by state and covers the years between 2006 and 2014. It also shows total number of pills sold in every state and the market share for each drug company.
David Sierleja, the first assistant U.S. attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cleveland, says the data isn’t meant to be used in every pending case. It will only be released if the judge issues a protective order requiring the use of the data. All figures will then be returned or destroyed when the litigation ends. Plus, the DOJ requires that the data not be used for commercial purposes and that certain information is for the attorney’s eyes only.
The data release will be used as talks continue to settle the hundreds of lawsuits filed by cities and counties against drug companies nationwide. The data could be used to show how many pills went to certain parts of the country and ultimately identify which drug companies could be held accountable for the massive number of painkillers on the market.
Jeffrey Newman represents whistleblowers