Remarks as prepared for delivery
Good morning, and thank you all for being here. I’d like to especially thank DEA Administrator Patterson for being here and for his leadership on this issue. DEA plays a vital role in our efforts here as you all know.
Today, we are facing the deadliest drug crisis in American history. Based on preliminary data, at least 64,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses last year. That would be the highest drug overdose death toll and the fastest increase in that death toll in American history. For Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death.
This crisis is driven primarily by opioids – prescription pain medications, heroin, and synthetic drugs like fentanyl.
Fortunately, President Trump understands this and has a passion for this issue. He has taken the rare step of declaring a public health emergency, and requested more than $1 billion in anti-opioid efforts in the President’s FY 2018 budget.
And I want to thank Kellyanne Conway for being here today. The President has made this a top priority for his administration—including every senior official and cabinet member—as her presence here today can attest.
The day I was sworn in as Attorney General, the President sent me an executive order to go after transnational criminal organizations—including the cartels who exploit the vulnerable and profit off of addiction.
I am convinced that our law enforcement efforts save lives—because they prevent new addictions from starting. By enforcing our laws, we help keep illegal drugs out of our country, reduce their availability, drive up their price, and reduce their purity.
The Department of Justice has taken a number of steps this year to make these efforts more effective.
In this year’s two drug take-back days, we took more than 900 tons of unused prescription drugs off of our streets—before they could fall into the wrong hands.
In July, the Department announced the largest health care fraud takedown in American history. The Department coordinated the efforts of more than 1,000 state and federal law enforcement agents to arrest and charge more than more than 120 defendants for opioid-related crimes.
In August I announced a new data analytics program called the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, which will help us find the tell-tale signs of opioid-related health care fraud.
I have also assigned experienced prosecutors in 12 opioid “hot-spots” across America to focus solely on prosecuting opioid-related health care fraud. Armed with better data, these prosecutors have already begun to issue indictments.
Additionally, the Department has indicted two Chinese nationals for separate schemes to distribute massive quantities of fentanyl—the number one killer drug in America. The truth is clear. Most fentanyl enters the United States from China. I have raised it with a recent Chinese delegation, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein has raised it, and President Trump was emphatic on the subject during his recent trip to China. We need more support.
Earlier this month, the DEA announced its intent to issue emergency restrictions on all forms of illicit fentanyl—which will make it harder for criminals to circumvent our laws.
As deadly as fentanyl is, you can go online and order it through the mail. That’s why in July, the Department announced the seizure of the largest dark net marketplace in history. 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 Utah.
These steps are important, and I believe that they have saved lives already. But still, we need to do more. And we will.
Today I am announcing three new initiatives to turn the tide.
First, the Department will continue to back the blue. I am announcing more than $12 million in grants to state and local law enforcement agencies across America to take heroin methamphetamines, cocaine, and other illicit drugs off our streets.
Second, I am announcing a restructuring at the DEA, with the establishment of the first new Field Division in nearly 20 years.
The current Louisville district office will now be the 22nd DEA Field Division, with about 90 special agents and 130 task force officers. This field division will cover West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. These areas covered by this new division face similar drug threats, enabling this division to better focus on those threats.
They will be led by Special Agent in Charge Christopher Evans, who has served DEA for more than 25 years.
Third and finally, I am ordering all of our U.S. Attorney offices to designate an opioid coordinator to serve as a kind of quarterback of our anti-opioid efforts in their community.
They will convene a task force of state, federal, and local law enforcement and help determine which cases to take federal. And they will help customize and evaluate the effectiveness of every U.S. Attorney’s Office’s strategy to combat the opioid epidemic, a strategy based on local conditions on the ground.
I believe that these changes will make law enforcement more effective—and make the American people safer.
But our work is not finished. We will not slow down for one day or even for one instant. With one American dying of a drug overdose every nine minutes, enforcing our drug laws is more important than ever.
We will not cede one city, one neighborhood, or one street corner to gangs, violence, or drugs.
We need to use every lawful tool we have—and we will. This Department will continue to take whatever steps we deem appropriate and effective toward our goal of turning the tide.
I know that this crisis is daunting- the death rates are stunning- and it can be discouraging. But we will turn the tide. When the men and women of law enforcement work effectively in a focused way, we can stop the growth of destructive addiction, keep the American people safe, and save lives. Thank you. Now I’ll turn it over to Rob to discuss DEA recent efforts in more detail.