Justice News

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Delivers Remarks to the National Narcotics Officers’ Association’s Coalition Drug Enforcement Forum
Washington, DC
United States
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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Bob, for that kind introduction.  And thank you for your 40 years of faithful service in and around law enforcement – both to the people of Minnesota and to our narcotics officers. Thank you for your commitment to drug enforcement in the face of naïve criticisms – and thank for your and the Association’s strong support for me, personally.

I want to thank all of the federal officers who are here with us today, who do so much to fight opioid trafficking across state lines and even international lines.

That includes Kristi Johnson of the FBI, Robert Nieves of DEA, and five officers from the Department of Homeland Security.

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 in the trenches every day gathering the intelligence and making the cases that can lead to national and even international cases.

We’ve got officers here from Los Angeles to Houston to Milwaukee to Baltimore.  We’ve got officers from big cities and from rural areas.

We all have different jurisdictions, but we are all united in one mission.

And so I wanted to be here today on behalf of President Donald Trump to tell each and every officer here how much we value your work and to thank you for your service.

I also want to give a special thank you to my friends from the FOP, the National Sheriffs Association, and the Major County Sheriffs Association who are here today.

Our shared work 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.

The CDC 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 in recent years—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.

As you all know, this crisis is being driven primarily by opioids – prescription painkillers, heroin, and synthetic drugs like fentanyl.  In 2016, opioid overdoses killed 42,000 Americans—five times the number from 20 years ago.

I personally know people whose families have been torn apart by drug addiction.  These days it is a safe assumption that most of you do, too. 

We also have a serious and growing cocaine problem in this country.  It’s purer, cheaper, and more available.  Cocaine-related deaths have nearly tripled the United States since 2010.  And our DEA agents in the West tell us that methamphetamine is their number-one problem.

The situation is daunting and the challenge is great.  But we have a unique opportunity to reverse these trends.  

I know that sometimes in the past, you haven’t had the support that you deserve.  You’ve had politicians that tie your hands, who fail to understand the challenges you face, and who are in denial about the nature and extent of the problem.

But not this administration.

In the face of an unprecedented crisis we have to take unprecedented action. 

And with President Donald Trump, that is exactly what we are doing.

President Trump has a comprehensive plan to end what he has declared to be “a national public health emergency.”  The Three legs of our plan include prevention, enforcement and treatment.

He 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 use of these drugs in the first place is the best thing we can do.

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

He has ordered me to seek the death penalty for certain drug dealers—something no president had done before him.

He recognizes that law enforcement is a component of crime prevention.

hen we enforce our drug laws, we prevent addiction from spreading.  The work that you do helps keep drugs out of our country, reduces their availability, drives up their price, and reduces their purity and addictiveness.  That saves lives. Experts tell us supply creates its own demand.

Under the previous administration, in drug cases, the Department of Justice directed federal prosecutors not to include in charging documents the full amount of drugs being dealt if it would trigger certain mandatory minimum sentences.  Prosecutors were required to leave out facts in order to achieve sentences lighter than required by law.

That is an improper and dangerous policy. It weakens enforcement and reduces cooperation.

After they put this directive into place, drug prosecutions went down by 17 percent.  And the average sentence length for a convicted federal drug trafficking offender decreased 15 percent.

Even if everything were going well, that still wouldn’t make sense.  But we were suffering from the worst drug crisis in our history.

And so, when I became Attorney General, I restored the charging policy of this Department to the traditional one that was in place when I was in trying cases and through much of the Obama Administration.

And in the districts where drug deaths are the highest, we are now vigorously prosecuting synthetic opioid trafficking cases, even when the amount is small.  It’s called Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge—or S.O.S.

We are in a desperate fight to curtail the availability and spread of this killer drug. Synthetic opioids are so strong that there is no such thing as a small case.  Three milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal.  That’s equivalent to a pinch of salt.  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.

In Manatee County, Florida, in partnership with the Sheriff, we tried this strategy 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.  Those are promising results.

We want to replicate those results in the places that have been hardest hit.

And so I have also sent 10 more prosecutors to help implement this strategy in ten districts where drug deaths are especially high.

And that is in addition to the 12 prosecutors I sent to prosecute opioid fraud in drug “hot spot districts.”  To help them do that, I have begun a new data analytics program at the Department called the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit to use data to find opioid-related health care fraud. 

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; pharmacies that are dispensing disproportionately large amounts of opioids; and regional hot spots for opioid issues.

I 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. You can be sure drugs, gangs, and related violence will be a priority for them.

And we have also hired more than 400 DEA task force officers this year alone.  That’s a record increase.

All of 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. Just 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. 

This summer, we broke that 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, the most fraud, and the most opioid-related fraud defendants we’ve ever charged in a single enforcement action.

But sadly, these days you don’t have to go to a street corner or find a crooked doctor to buy drugs.  Many now use a few clicks of a button to go online and have them shipped from overseas right to their door.

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 synthetic opioid overdoses, including the tragic death of a 13 year old.

In January we began 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. We need to work together on this – on controlled deliveries – so it becomes clear that internet distribution is no safe path.

Last month I announced charges against a married couple who we believe were once the most prolific synthetic opioid, fentanyl, traffickers on the darknet in North America.  We had 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.

The vast majority of the fentanyl in this country was made in China.  And under President Donald Trump we became the first administration to prosecute Chinese fentanyl traffickers.

Last October, we announced the first two indictments against Chinese nationals for trafficking synthetic drugs in the United States. 

Last month I announced our third case—a 43-count indictment against a drug trafficking organization based in Shanghai.

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

In 2017, Customs and Border Protection seized 63 percent more cocaine at our borders as they seized just two years before. 

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard seized record numbers of drugs: about half a million pounds total, worth about $6.1 billion.  The Coast Guard also helped us arrest more than 600 alleged drug traffickers.

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 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.

We are back in the effort at historic levels.

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 that's in addition to a 7 percent decline in 2017.

And while 2017 saw more overdose deaths than 2016, data for the last months of the year show that the increases may have slowed.

And by the way: our anti-drug efforts are helping us achieve our other major priority: reducing violent crime in America.

The day I was sworn in as Attorney General, the President gave me three clear orders: back the men and women in blue, reduce crime in America, and dismantle transnational criminal organizations.

By supporting your work, we can accomplish all three.

As surely as night follows day—violence, addiction and death follow drug activity.

When the drug epidemic was accelerating—so was violent crime and so was murder.  That was no coincidence.

In 2015, the homicide rate increased by 12 percent nationally.  And it increased again by 8 percent in 2016.  Violent crime, rape, robbery, and assault increased during that time, too.

But preliminary data show that both the violent crime rate and the homicide rate are beginning to head back down.

Public data from 88 large cities suggest that violent crime went down in the first quarter of 2018 compared to 2017.  Violent crime went down 6.8 percent and murder is going down in 2018 by 5.5 percent.

We are right to celebrate these accomplishments, but we have to acknowledge that we still have a lot more work together 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 are committed to breaking the vicious cycle of drug abuse, addiction, and overdose that has devastated countless American families. I have personally stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our narcotics officers and I know the challenges you face and the malicious forces you confront daily.

And so I want to close by reiterating my deep appreciation and profound thanks to each one of you: our narcotics officers– federal, state, local, and tribal – as well as your 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.

 

Updated September 12, 2018