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March 1st, 2018

Attorney General Sessions Discusses DOJ Efforts to Combat Opioid Abuse

On Tuesday, we heard more about the ongoing efforts to combat opioid abuse and efforts to combat this important public health problem.  U.S Attorney General Jeff Sessions discussed a variety of topics, including lawsuits already underway around the country.  It is noteworthy that, during a discussion of litigation issues with journalists, General Sessions rejected the concept of retaining outside counsel who are paid on a contingent basis.

Americans can be encouraged by responsible authorities’ increasing engagement and determination to address our nation’s complex problems with opioid abuse, but these problems won’t be solved overnight. It is essential that elected policymakers, the expert regulators they appoint, the medical and scientific communities, and law enforcement work cooperatively to advance the interests of public health and safety. Litigation is not the solution, and certainly not litigation driven by outside plaintiff’s lawyers who stand to gain hundreds of millions of dollars in fees if they are successful.

Contingency fee arrangements pay plaintiff lawyers roughly one-third of the take plus their expenses. As a result, the incentive for plaintiff lawyers is to maximize their fees irrespective of the public interest. Lawsuits brought by powerful state or local governments must serve the public interest, and not merely the profit-seeking interests of politically influential members of the plaintiffs’ bar.

Abuses of arrangements between state governments and outside counsel have been well-documented for more than a decade by the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board and a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times series. This reporting has shown how personal injury lawyers often shop their ideas for potentially lucrative lawsuits against corporate defendants to friendly state AGs whom they support with generous campaign contributions. The Times found that overall, plaintiffs’ firms have donated at least $9.8 million directly to state attorneys general and political groups related to attorneys general over the last decade.

Policymakers must seek to maximize public health and safety. With an obvious need for cooperative efforts to improve regulations and reduce opioid abuse, policymaking must not be left to trial lawyers with an interest in padding their bottom lines.