By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday called for a federal lawsuit against opioid companies and stiffer penalties for drug dealers, arguing that the government must take a strong approach to combat an opioid addiction epidemic.
Trump said that he had urged Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take legal action.
"Hopefully we can do some litigation against the opioid companies," Trump said at a summit hosted by the White House on the nation's opioid crisis.
Hundreds of states, counties and cities have sued drugmakers and distributors, saying that manufacturers have deceptively marketed opioids and distributors have failed to take action against indications the painkillers were diverted for improper uses.
On Tuesday, Sessions announced that the federal government would seek reimbursement from major drug companies and distributors to recoup costs from the opioid epidemic. The Justice Department will file a "statement of interest" in consolidated litigation on opioids.
It was not immediately clear whether, in his remarks at the summit, Trump was referring to that Justice Department action or pressing for further steps.
The White House convened the opioid summit to highlight administration efforts to address drug abuse.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016, the last year with publicly available data.
Trump complained that people dealing drugs on the streets did not face enough consequences in the United States.
"Some countries have a very, very tough penalty - the ultimate penalty," he said. "And, by the way, they have much less of a drug problem than we do."
He did not specify the type of punishment he would like to see drug dealers face.
The White House has indicated it would favor new rules to provide prisoners with more opportunities once they are no longer incarcerated, but has declined to back changes that would reduce mandatory minimums for drug offenders.
(Additional reporting by Makini Brice; editing by Lisa Lambert and Rosalba O'Brien)