Justice News

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Delivers Remarks Announcing New Initiative to Combat Deadly Fentanyl Crisis
Concord, ME
United States
Thursday, July 12, 2018

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Scott, for that kind introduction and thank you for your more than 30 years of service as a prosecutor.

The President just nominated a Supreme Court Justice who is the son of a prosecutor.  He grew up with a mom who was practicing closing arguments at the dinner table.  He understands and appreciates the value of the work that we do and he is committed to interpreting the law as written.  His record shows that he serves under the law, not above it.  I think he is a fabulous choice and all of us in the law enforcement community can feel good about his nomination.

It is an honor to be here with my fellow prosecutors and law enforcement officers to make an announcement about one of the most important issues we face: our fight against the opioid epidemic.

But first I want to thank all of the federal officers who are here with us today, who do so much to fight opioid trafficking in New Hampshire, across state lines, and even international lines.  That includes Brian Boyle of DEA, HIDTA Director Jay Fallon, Amanda Cahill with ATF, and our partners Mike Posanka with HSI and Robert Garcia with Border Patrol.

And, of course, I want to thank our new DEA Administrator Uttam Dhillon for joining me here today.

Uttam has had a long career battling drug traffickers and violent crime and I am confident he will be a strong leader for our fabulous men and women at the DEA for this critical fight.

And while we are inexpressibly proud of our fabulous federal officers, we also understand and appreciate the fact that 85 percent of the law enforcement officers in this country serve at the state and local levels.  You are the ones in the trenches every day gathering the street-level intelligence that can lead to national and even international cases.

And so I want to give a special thanks to Concord Police Chief Bradley Osgood, Manchester’s new police chief Carlo Capano, as well as the eight other police chiefs who are here, Colonel Chris Wagner of the New Hampshire State Police, Sheriff Mike Hureau, as well as five county prosecutors.

It is an honor to be with you all.

I know that—with the help of these fabulous law enforcement partners—this U.S. Attorney’s office is doing a lot of great work.  Prosecutors like Georgiana Konesky, Seth Aframe, and Debra Walsh have brought charges against some 50 people involved in distributing fentanyl—including four illegal aliens residing in the sanctuary city of Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Donald Feith secured a 20-year sentence for a drug dealer who had enough heroin to kill tens of thousands of people.  And of course, you are achieving successes on so many other issues as well. 

But our shared work of enforcing our drug laws has never been more important than it is right now.  Today we are facing the deadliest drug crisis in American history.  We’ve never seen anything like it.

Approximately 64,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses in 2016 – the highest drug death toll and the fastest increase in that death toll in American history.

That’s the equivalent of more than half of the population of Manchester—dead in one year just from overdoses.  Meanwhile millions of people are living with the consequences of a family member’s addiction or an addiction of their own.  It is incredible but true that for Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death.

Preliminary data show that the drug death toll continued to rise in 2017, but at a much slower pace.  And according to CDC data through November 2017, it appears that we are starting to making progress.

But sadly, New Hampshire knows the tragic consequences of drugs and addiction all too well.

From 2013 to 2016, opioid-related deaths in New Hampshire tripled.  And in 2016 the Granite State had the second-highest rate of opioid overdose deaths in America.  

I visited Manchester last March for the New Hampshire Youth Summit on Opioid Awareness.  Fifty mothers stood before thousands of high school students holding large pictures of their child who had been lost to drug overdoses.  It was extremely moving and it’s something I will never forget.

It reminds us that we are not just talking about numbers – these are moms, dads, daughters, sons, spouses, friends, and neighbors.

We are talking about people like Eve Tarmey, a 17-year old high school senior from Rochester, New Hampshire.  She was injected with fentanyl by her mom’s boyfriend, who later woke up to find her dead.  Thanks to the people of this office, he is now serving 20 years in federal prison.

We are talking about the one-year old child from Brentwood, New Hampshire, who got into his father’s fentanyl stash and ate some of it.  Now he is dead—and his Dad is in jail.

Unfortunately, there are many more tragic stories like these.  This crisis is devastating.

But we will not stand by idle. 

We are not going to accept the status quo.  We will not allow this to continue.

President Trump has made clear that business as usual is over. 

Ending the drug crisis is a top priority of this administration.  As he laid out a few months ago at Manchester Community College, President Trump has a comprehensive plan to end this national public health emergency.

He has negotiated and signed bipartisan legislation to spend $6 billion to win against this danger.

He wants to improve our prevention efforts by launching a national awareness campaign about the dangers of opioid abuse. 

He has set the ambitious goal of reducing opioid prescriptions in America by one-third in three years—an ambitious goal that we can achieve.  And he is a strong supporter of our law enforcement efforts.

He recognizes that law enforcement is crime prevention.

We’re not just locking up criminals for the sake of locking them up.  We are preventing addiction from spreading and we are saving lives.

That is what is at stake in our work.  And that is why we are attacking the gangs and cartels—damaging, weakening, and even destroying their distribution networks.

Today I am announcing our next steps to do just that.

It’s called Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge—or S.O.S. 

I am ordering our prosecutors in 10 districts with some of the highest overdose death rates—including this one—to systematically and relentlessly prosecute every synthetic opioid case.  We can weaken these networks, reduce fentanyl availability, and save lives.

We are going to arrest, prosecute, and convict fentanyl dealers and we are going to put them in jail.

When it comes to synthetic opioids, there is no such thing as a small case.

Three milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal.  That’s equivalent a pinch of salt.  It’s not even enough to cover up Lincoln’s face on a penny.  Depending on the purity, you could fit more than 1,000 fatal doses of fentanyl in a teaspoon.

I want to be clear about this: we are not focusing on users, but on those supplying them with deadly drugs.

Manatee County, Florida shows that a united and determined effort, focusing on fentanyl dealers, can save lives.

Your counterparts in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Middle District of Florida tried this strategy in Manatee County, which is just south of Tampa. Like many parts of this country, they had experienced massive increases in opioid deaths in 2015 and 2016.

In response, they began prosecuting synthetic opioid sales, regardless of the amount.  They prosecuted 45 synthetic opioids traffickers—and deaths started to go down.

From the first six months of 2016 to 2017, overdose deaths dropped by 22 percent.  This past January, they had nearly a quarter fewer overdoses as the previous January.  The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office went from responding to 11 overdoses a day to an average of one a day.  Those are remarkable results.

As you implement this proven strategy, I am sending in reinforcements to help you. 

Last month, I sent more than 300 new AUSAs to districts across America—including two here to this office.  It was the largest prosecutor surge in decades.

Today I am announcing that each of these ten districts where the drug crisis is worst will receive an additional prosecutor.

As a former AUSA and U.S. Attorney myself, I know what you can do—and my expectations could not be higher.  Our goal is to reduce crime, reduce fentanyl, and to reduce deaths, plain and simple.

I believe that this new strategy and these additional prosecutors will have a significant impact.

Scott and I have talked about this.  He is excited about it and I know that you all are going to achieve similar results here in New Hampshire.

I believe that this is going to build on the new tools that we have given our prosecutors over these past 18 months.

One of these tools is the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit – a new data analytics program that focuses specifically on opioid-related health care fraud.  This sort of data analytics team can tell us important information, like who is prescribing the most drugs, who is dispensing the most drugs, and whose patients are dying of overdoses.

As part of this initiative, I have assigned a dozen experienced prosecutors in opioid hot-spot districts to focus solely on prosecuting opioid-related health care fraud.  They are achieving positive results.

We have begun J-CODE, a new team at the FBI that focuses specifically on the threat of online opioid sales.  They have already begun carrying out nationwide enforcement actions, arresting dozens of people across the country.

These new tools have helped us to deliver results for the American people.

Since January 2017, we have charged more than 200 doctors and another 220 other medical personnel for opioid-related crimes. Sixteen of those doctors prescribed more than 20.3 million pills illegally.

Last summer we set a record for the largest health care fraud enforcement action in American history.  Just a few weeks ago, we set a new record.

We coordinated the efforts of more than 1,000 state and federal law enforcement agents to charge more than 600 defendants—including 76 doctors—with more than $2 billion in fraud.

This was the most doctors, the most medical personnel, and the most fraud that the Department of Justice has ever taken on in any single law enforcement action.  This is the most defendants we’ve ever charged with health care fraud.

It’s also the most opioid-related fraud defendants we’ve ever charged in a single enforcement action.

Almost exactly one year ago today, the Department announced the seizure of the largest dark net marketplace in history – AlphaBay.  This site hosted some 220,000 drug listings and was responsible for countless synthetic opioid overdoses, including the tragic death of a 13 year old.

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

In 2017, we tripled the number of fentanyl prosecutions at the federal level.

Our efforts are already bearing fruit.  The DEA’s National Prescription Audit shows that in the first quarter of 2018, opioid prescriptions went down by nearly 12 percent compared to the first quarter of 2017, when President Trump took office.  And we are confident that the decline for 2018 will be even bigger.

We are right to celebrate these accomplishments, but we have to acknowledge that we still have a lot more work to do.

That’s why we are going to keep arming you with the tools that you need to keep drugs out of this community.  We are going to keep up this pace.

We know that our mission is difficult—but it’s not hopeless.  Together, we can break the vicious cycle of drug abuse, addiction, and overdose that has devastated countless American families.

And so I want to close by reiterating my deep appreciation and profound thanks to all the women and men of law enforcement – federal, state, local, and tribal – as well as their families, for sacrificing so much and putting your lives on the line every day so that the rest of us may enjoy the safety and security you provide.

The work that you do is essential.  I believe it.  The Department of Justice believes it.  And President Trump believes it.

You can be certain about this: we have your back and you have our thanks.

Prescription Drugs
Updated July 12, 2018