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Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker Delivers Remarks at John F. Kennedy International Airport’s International Mail Distribution Center


Queens, NY
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Director Russo, for that kind introduction.  I especially want to thank you and your brother for following in your Dad’s footsteps and going into law enforcement.  Thank you for 23 years of service.

I also want to thank:

  • Rich Donoghue, our U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York,
  • Phil Bartlett and our postal inspectors,
  • Keith Kruskall and Michael Abraham with DEA,
  • Port Director Frank Russo,
  • Director of Operations Troy Miller, and
  • Assistant Special Agent in Charge Christopher Lau.

Thank you all for the tour and for the briefing. 

But most of all, thank you to our CBP, DEA, Postal Inspection Service Agents who are here for the interdiction work you do every day.

Your work is more important than ever—because today we are facing the deadliest drug crisis in American history.  Last year 72,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses.  That’s the highest drug death toll in American history.  More Americans died of drug overdoses last year than from car crashes or from AIDS at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

Despite rising prosperity and better technology, life expectancy in the United States actually declined over the last two years in a row.  The last time that happened was 55 years ago.

Millions of people are living with the painful consequences of a family member’s addiction or an addiction of their own.  I personally know people whose families have been torn apart by drug addiction.  These days, it is likely that most of you do, too.  We all do.

New York has not been immune to this problem.  No one has. 

Drug overdose deaths in New York City have gone up by 81 percent in just the last three years.

The situation is daunting.  But law enforcement has a unique opportunity to reverse these trends.

President Trump has a comprehensive plan to end this crisis.  The three parts of the plan are prevention, treatment, and enforcement.

The President has improved our prevention efforts by launching a national awareness campaign about the dangers of opioid abuse—a campaign I strongly support.  In the long run, getting more and more people to reject drug abuse in the first place will stop addiction from spreading.

The drugs on the street today are as potent and as dangerous as they have ever been.  That is because of synthetic opioids—drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil. 

These drugs killed 20,000 Americans last year—more than any other kind of drug.  Three milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal.  That’s equivalent to a pinch of salt.

And you don’t have to go to a street corner to buy these drugs.  With a few clicks of a button you can go online and have them shipped from overseas right to your door.  The odds are good that those packages come through this room.

I’m told that you process more than 800,000 pieces of mail every day just at this airport, including a majority of international mail entering the United States.  I’m also told that you intercepted dozens of packages of fentanyl just in this last fiscal year.  That is incredible work and I have no doubt that it has saved lives.

Just last month, the President signed into law major legislation that I believe will make you more effective.  Under the new law, the Postal Service must share electronic information with CBP about packages coming into the United States.  That information includes where it’s from, where it’s going, and what’s in it.  That will help law enforcement track suspicious packages, find criminals, and it will help us prove our case at trial.

And that is critical.  You are our strong first line of defense against these drugs.  But you need a strong offense, too. 

And that’s where we come in.

We don’t just want to stop packages once they get here—we want to prevent them from being sent in the first place.

By prosecuting traffickers and breaking up the supply chain, our work ultimately will make your work safer and easier.

One of President Trump’s first Executive Orders was to the Department of Justice, telling us to dismantle the networks of transnational organized crime.  We have been faithful to that order.

In fact, the Trump administration is the first administration to prosecute Chinese fentanyl traffickers.  We know that China is responsible for the vast majority of fentanyl in this country.

Last October, we announced the first two indictments against Chinese nationals for trafficking synthetic drugs in the United States.  Over the summer we announced our third case—a 43-count indictment against a drug trafficking organization based in Shanghai.

This summer I went to China and I spoke with Chinese officials about this exact problem.  I made it clear to them that we need better information from them on packages coming to this country.  Just like we want to improve our law enforcement cooperation with them, we need their cooperation on this issue, as well.  This administration is paying very close attention to this problem.

Nevertheless, with your help, the United States is interdicting drugs coming into this country at record levels.

In just the first three months of 2018, the DEA seized a total of more than 200 pounds of suspected fentanyl in cases from Detroit to New York to Boston.  Depending on its purity, that can be enough to kill tens of millions of people.

In fiscal year 2017, we broke the record for fentanyl prosecutions at the federal level—and in fiscal year 2018, we broke that record again.

Last July, the Department announced the seizure of the largest dark net marketplace in history – AlphaBay.  This site allowed you to send packages of drugs from China straight to your door.  They hosted some 220,000 drug listings and was responsible for countless synthetic opioid overdoses, including the tragic death of a 13 year old in Utah.

Earlier this year we filed charges against a married couple who we believe were once the most prolific synthetic opioid traffickers on Alpha Bay and on the darknet in North America in general.  We also worked with our partners in Canada to help them indict a man we believe was the third most prolific darknet synthetic opioid dealer in North America.

And we have new weapons to be even more effective in the future.  In January we began J-CODE, a new team at the FBI that focuses specifically on the threat of online opioid sales—the sales that are so often sending packages through this building.  J-CODE has already begun carrying out enforcement actions nationwide, arresting dozens of people across the country.

And in the districts where drug deaths are the highest, we are now prosecuting synthetic opioid trafficking cases, even when the amount is small.  We have sent 10 more prosecutors to help implement this strategy in those 10 districts.  We call this effort Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge—or Operation S.O.S.

We tried this strategy in Manatee County, Florida—which is just south of Tampa—and it worked.  This past January, they had half the number of overdose deaths as the previous January.  We want to replicate those results across the country.

We have also sent more than 300 new federal prosecutors to our U.S. Attorneys offices across America.  This is the largest surge in prosecutors in decades.

We have also hired more than 400 DEA task force officers this year alone.  That is a record increase.

All of these efforts are delivering results. 

Federal drug prosecutions overall went up by six percent over the last fiscal year, and fentanyl prosecutions have increased dramatically for two years in a row.

Most importantly, we are seeing an impact on people’s lives.  While 2017 saw more overdose deaths than 2016, data for the last months of the year show that the increases may have finally come to an end.  Drug overdose deaths fell by two percent from September 2017 to March 2018.

We are right to celebrate these accomplishments, but we have to acknowledge that we still have a lot more work to do—and the stakes have never been higher.

That is why I am so glad that we have this incredible facility and the dedicated professionals who make it a success.  You are our strong first line of defense—and we appreciate you.

And so I want each of you to know: we have your back and you have our thanks.

Drug Trafficking
Prescription Drugs
Updated November 21, 2018