Justice News

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Delivers Remarks at the Department of Justice Opioid Summit
Washington, DC
United States
Thursday, October 25, 2018

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Rod for that kind introduction and thank you for your outstanding leadership as Deputy Attorney General.

Thank you once again to Rhea Walker for that beautiful rendition of our beloved National Anthem.

Thank you to Mary Daly, our director of opioid enforcement and prevention at the Department, for your remarks and for the excellent work that you have done in coordinating our anti-opioid efforts here at Main Justice. 

I also want to thank Acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio, Assistant Attorney General Beth Williams, and all of our panelists, including:

  • Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski
  • Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon, and
  • FBI Deputy Director Bowdich.

Thank you to all 25 of the U.S. Attorneys and 23 AUSAs who are here.

And while we are inexpressibly proud of our Department of Justice team, we also fully appreciate the fact that 85 percent of the law enforcement officers in this country serve at the state and local levels.

And so I want to give a special thank you to:

  • Jonathan Thompson and the National Sheriffs Association
  • Kim Wagner and the Major County Sheriffs of America
  • Sheriffs Donny Youngblood and Michael Lewis, and
  • The International Association of Chiefs of Police.


This is a distinguished group.  Thank you all for being here.  I think that the turnout we have today shows what an important issue this is.

But before I say anything else, I just want everyone to know that this Department is responding to the suspicious packages that have been sent to several political leaders and a media outlet in the last days and those found today.  Yesterday I spoke to FBI Director Wray and Deputy Director Bowdich and briefed the President.  FBI and ATF are working together on this. And I want to thank all of our law enforcement officers who have undoubtedly saved lives this week and are working around the clock.

Across this administration—across this country—we condemn these actions in the strongest possible terms and we are determined that justice will be done.

In the meantime, we will continue this event.  We cannot let ourselves be intimidated.

Our shared work of fighting drug crime has never been more important than it is right now.

This is the deadliest drug crisis in American history.  We’ve never seen anything like it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 72,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses last year.  That’s highest drug death toll in American history—by far.

It is widely estimated that life expectancy has declined in the United States for two years in a row—largely because of drug abuse.

Meanwhile, millions of people are living with the painful consequences of a family member’s addiction or an addiction of their own—most of us personally know someone who is impacted.

There is no doubt that we face a grave challenge.  But we can and we will meet it. We will reverse these destructive trends and protect our people, our health, our culture, and our laws.

We at DOJ embrace our important role. It’s important for you to know we are focused. We are making much progress, but we have much more to do.

President Donald Trump has laid out a comprehensive plan to end this crisis.  The three legs of his plan are prevention, enforcement and treatment. 

He and a bipartisan Congress have agreed to invest $4 billion to fight the opioid crisis.

Just yesterday, I was at the White House where the President and First Lady hosted an important event to bring attention to this crisis and to highlight the actions his administration has taken over the past year to combat this crisis. He also signed into law the SUPPORT Act, which will go a long way to improving prevention and treatment services. 

President Trump has improved our prevention efforts by launching a national awareness campaign about the dangers of opioid abuse—a campaign I strongly support.  He has declared this month to be Substance Abuse Prevention Month, and he has taken the bold step to declare the opioid crisis to be a national public health emergency.

The President has set the ambitious goal of reducing opioid prescriptions in America by one-third in three years—a goal we are determined to achieve.

In fact, we are well on our way to achieving it.  According to the DEA’s National Prescription Audit, in the first eight months of 2018, opioid prescriptions were down by nearly 12 percent compared to a year before.  And that's in addition to a seven percent decline last year.

We now have the lowest opioid prescription rates in 18 years.  And we’re going to bring them a lot lower.

For next year, the DEA is lowering the legal limits on opioid production by an average of 10 percent. 

That is about a 44 percent decrease in opioid production since 2016.

We are also going after the fraudsters—the corrupt doctors and pharmacists—who take advantage of addiction to line their pockets.

Two years in a row we have set records for health care fraud enforcement.  This July we charged 601 defendants with more than $2 billion in medical 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 and the most opioid-related fraud defendants we’ve ever charged in a single enforcement action.

All of this work is adding up—and it is adding up fast.  Under President Donald Trump, the Department of Justice has charged 226 doctors with opioid-related crimes and convicted 82 of them.  We have also charged another 221 other medical personnel for opioid-related crimes.  Sixteen of those doctors prescribed more than 20.3 million pills illegally.

These numbers will continue to rise, because we have developed new methods to attack the problem. I have directed that each of our U.S. Attorneys designate a special opioid coordinator to ensure prompt, effective enforcement of our drug laws.

I have sent 12 prosecutors to focus exclusively on opioid-related medical fraud in some of the hardest hit parts of this country.  To help them do that, we have begun a new data analytics program at the Department called the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit. 

This team follows the numbers—like which doctors are writing opioid prescriptions at a rate that far exceeds their peers; how many of a doctor's patients have died within 60 days of an opioid prescription; and pharmacies that are dispensing disproportionately large amounts of opioids. This has been very productive.

But sadly, these days you don’t need to find a crooked doctor or a pharmacist to buy drugs.  With a few clicks of a button you can go online and have them shipped from overseas right to your door.

That is why we are also taking unprecedented action against the killer fentanyl compound traffickers both at home and abroad.

Last July, 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 fentanyl overdoses, including the tragic death of a 13 year old.

In August I announced charges against a married couple who we believe were once the most prolific synthetic opioid traffickers on the darknet in North America.  And 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.

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

And in the districts where drug deaths are the highest, we are prosecuting every fentanyl trafficking case we can, even when the amount of drugs might be small.  When it comes to synthetic drugs like fentanyl, we are working to find and stop every source.

We tried this strategy in Manatee County, Florida—just south of Tampa—and it worked.  This past January, they had half the number of overdose deaths as the previous January. 

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office went from responding to 11 overdose calls a day to an average of one a day.

That is why I have started a new effort—we call it Operation S.O.S.—to send 10 more prosecutors to help implement this strategy in ten districts around the country where drug deaths are especially high.

But fentanyl isn’t made in these districts.  They’re not made in America at all.  We know that the vast majority of the fentanyl in this country is made in China. 

That is why under President Donald Trump we became the first administration to prosecute Chinese fentanyl traffickers.

A year ago, we announced the first two indictments against Chinese nationals for trafficking synthetic drugs in the United States.  In August, I announced our third case—a 43-count indictment against a drug trafficking organization based in Shanghai.

China could do more to stop these drugs from coming here.  Frankly, they’re not doing enough.  They must do more.

This administration recognizes the fact that the vast majority of the illicit drugs in this country got here over our Southern border.  For four years in a row the DEA has told us that Mexican drug cartels are the single biggest drug threat to the United States. 

Last week I designated two Mexican transnational criminal organizations as priority threats for our new Transnational Organized Crime Task Force: the Sinaloa Cartel and the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion, or CJNG. 

I also announced 15 indictments against 45 CJNG leaders, funders, transporters, drug sources, and distributors.

We are interdicting drugs coming into this country at record levels.

The Coast Guard seized record numbers of drugs in 2017: about half a million pounds total, worth about $6.1 billion.

Over the last 12 months, the DEA seized more than a half a million pounds of cocaine, six tons of heroin, more than 50 tons of methamphetamine, and more than two tons of fentanyl—70 percent more fentanyl than the year before.

Taken together, in the last year, DEA has seized enough drugs to kill every man, woman, and child in the United States.

We are seizing more drugs and we’re prosecuting more cases.  We have increased drug prosecutions overall by over the previous year and targeted cases more effectively. 

For opioids, we prosecuted 36 percent more defendants than the previous four-year average.  We increased heroin prosecutions by 15 percent and oxycontin prosecutions by 35 percent.  We have tripled the number of fentanyl prosecutions at the federal level two years in a row.  These are preliminary numbers—and they don’t include health care fraud charges—so the increases are actually even bigger than that.

What is most important, however, is that overdose deaths in this country may have plateaued or even started to finally come down.

From 2012 to 2017, drug overdose deaths per year in this country increased a shocking 73 percent.

But it appears as though these staggering increases may finally have stopped. 

According to the CDC, drug overdose deaths increased on a month-by-month basis until last September.  The rolling 12-month total of overdose deaths in America decreased by 2.3 percent from September 2017 through February.

These are preliminary numbers—and we want much bigger decreases—but these numbers give us good reason to hope.  We are on the right path.

And we are not going to stop there.  Today I am announcing our next steps.

First of all, I am announcing $27.8 million in grant funding to 17 state law enforcement agency task forces through our Anti-Heroin Task Force Program.  These funds will be used for criminal investigations in states that are particularly suffering from the opioid crisis. 

In addition, we will invest $7.2 million in state investigations of methamphetamine cases, which are also important, particularly in our Western states.

I am also announcing $34.6 million through our Office for Victims of Crime to help children who have been victimized because of opioid abuse.  These funds will support things like counseling, mentoring, foster care, legal services, and training for school personnel and law enforcement.  The Trump administration is investing a lot more than $34 million in treatment and assistance to those in need through HHS—but this is our latest step.

And third and finally I am announcing a new Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force.

Appalachia has been especially hard hit by addiction and by opioid fraud.  Some of the first pill mills in America were started in Southern Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia.  And to this day these communities have tragically high rates of addiction and overdose.

In fact, I am going to Kentucky tomorrow afternoon to meet with our prosecutors and law officers.

Our new Strike Force will be composed of 12 additional opioid fraud prosecutors, each with their own team of federal law enforcement agents.  They will help us find the doctors, pharmacists, and other medical professionals who are flooding our streets with drugs—and put them behind bars.

We will be relentless, we will continue to get smarter and better at our work.  And these new steps are going to build on the successes that we have already had as an administration and as a Department.

And so we are going to keep up this pace.  We are not slowing down.

In this effort, the stakes have never been higher. 

But neither has our determination.

Drug Trafficking
Prescription Drugs
Updated October 25, 2018