Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, New York, have opened a criminal probe into the role drug manufacturers and distributors played in fueling the opioid crisis, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
Some of those companies had previously disclosed the receipt of grand jury subpoenas.
Johnson & Johnson reported in a quarterly filing in October that it had received a subpoena from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York for documents related to its distribution of opioid medications, which it understood to be part of a broader probe.
A spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson said the company "believes that at all times its anti-diversion policies and procedures for distribution of its opioid medications complied with the law. In fact, monitoring data shows that the company's opioids were rarely diverted or abused."
A spokesperson for Mallinckrodt, which also previously disclosed a grand jury subpoena, declined to comment.
None of the other companies were immediately available for comment.
The investigation marks a significant broadening of the federal government's focus on pinpointing which parties contributed to the opioid crisis.
The Justice Department had already launched a criminal probe into Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, for its part in the epidemic. That investigation examined whether the company failed to report doctors who were illegally prescribing opioids and also the company's order-monitoring systems, the Journal previously reported. Purdue has been in talks to resolve the probe, according to the Journal.
President Donald Trump has made the fight against opioids a key policy initiative for his administration. The president on Tuesday also said he would give his salary for the third quarter of this year, more than $100,000, to efforts battling the opioid crisis.
From 1999 to 2017, nearly 218,000 people died in the United States from overdoses related to prescription opioids, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More subpoenas for the probe, which is still in its early stages, are expected to come. If the investigation turns into criminal charges, it could be the largest prosecution of drug companies said to have been part of the opioid crisis, the Journal reported.
Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, buckling under the weight of thousands of lawsuits from states and individuals seeking damages stemming from the epidemic.
Shares of Teva, Johnson & Johnson and Merck all fell on the news.