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Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch Delivers Remarks at Press Availability for Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week


Lexington, KY
United States

Good morning, everyone, and thank you for being here.  Before discussing the issues that bring me to Kentucky, I want to briefly address the events of last weekend, which I know are foremost on every American’s mind right now.  I want to thank the outstanding federal and local law enforcement, first responders and citizens in New York and New Jersey who have contributed to the ongoing investigation of multiple bombs in the New York and New Jersey region.  As you know, we now have a suspect in custody.  We thank those citizens who did what we ask people to do: When they saw something, they said something.  That’s exactly the posture we need all Americans to have.  The investigation is active and ongoing and it is being investigated as an act of terror.

We are also actively investigating the stabbing of several individuals in Minnesota as an act of terrorism.  In that instance, too, we saw a bystander play a crucial role, as an off-duty police officer stepped in to stop the assailant and, undoubtedly, save lives.  I thank our U.S. Attorneys in Minnesota, New York and New Jersey, our FBI and ATF regional leadership, as well as our local partners, and citizens of each of these communities, for all of their hard work and contribution to this investigation.  And I want to offer my prayers for a swift and full recovery to all of the innocent civilians and brave law enforcement officers who were harmed in these appalling incidents.

Now, turning to today’s agenda, I want to thank U.S. Attorney [Kerry] Harvey for his outstanding commitment to serving the people of the Eastern District of Kentucky – especially his exceptional leadership in combatting the heroin and opioid epidemic that has caused so much devastation here in Kentucky.  I also want to thank Mayor [Jim] Gray and Chief [Mark] Barnard for welcoming me to their beautiful city, and for their partnership and leadership on this crucial issue.

I have come to Lexington today as part of the Obama Administration’s Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week, which the President established by proclamation last Friday.  At the Department of Justice, we are using this platform to highlight and reinforce our comprehensive response to the heroin and opioid crisis, which encompasses work in three key areas: prevention and awareness, law enforcement, and treatment.  With the help of our United States Attorneys and Bureau of Prison facilities around the nation, we are hosting more than 250 events to advance those essential goals and to build public support for the fight against opioid abuse.

During my time today, I will be meeting with residents, civic leaders, law enforcement officials and students to understand how the epidemic has affected Kentucky, and to learn from the community what more the Department of Justice can do to help.  Our nation’s young people have an essential role to play to prevent these tragedies.  I just concluded an event here at Madison Central High School, where students had a chance to hear about the dangers of heroin and opioids from those who know best: a young adult recovering from addiction, and a parent who lost a child to an overdose.  I then answered students’ questions, and listened to their insightful recommendations.  We talked about how hard it can be to make good choices and how important it is to look out for their friends and peers.  I want them to know enough to avoid the dangerous path that starts with prescription painkillers and leads to heroin.  And we all need them to know that if they are struggling with opioid abuse, they are not alone.  There is help available.  We had a productive discussion, and I want to thank Madison Central High and our speakers for making this critical event possible.

This afternoon, I will meet with a group of people who have lost family members to heroin or opioid abuse.  These courageous individuals are now participating in the U.S. Attorney’s Heroin Education Action Team, also known as H.E.A.T., which invites those who have lost a loved one to help stop the opioid epidemic by supporting our public outreach efforts.  I will then visit the University of Kentucky, where I will deliver a speech outlining what the Department of Justice is doing to combat the opioid crisis here in Kentucky and throughout the United States. 

In the speech, I will be announcing new resources and efforts to assist our state and local partners by expanding the use of prescription drug monitoring program, or PDMPs. PDMPs are one of the most effective tools that states have to address this epidemic.  We want to help states expand on those efforts by sharing vital information from doctors and pharmacists about patient prescriptions—both within states, and between neighboring states.  Later today, I will be sending letters to governors asking to partner with them on this vital issue. 

I’m proud of the work we are doing during this week of action.  But I am well aware that it will take more than seven days to put an end to this destructive epidemic.  Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Services released new numbers showing that 3.8 million Americans ages 12 and up are misusing prescription painkillers.  That is a stunning figure, but it hardly conveys the widespread pain and heartbreak that the rash of heroin and opioid abuse has caused in far too many communities throughout the United States.  What we face is not just a law enforcement crisis or a public health crisis.  We face a moral crisis – a test of whether we in the United States can protect our children, our friends, our neighbors, and our fellow citizens from the scourge of addiction.  What I’ve seen here in Kentucky – and what I know from seeing the work of my colleagues throughout the Justice Department – makes me not just hopeful, but confident that we are up to that test.  Through innovative partnerships, hard work, and awareness efforts like this national week of action, we are moving in the right direction.  And I am certain that together, we will continue drawing closer to the day when the heroin and opioid epidemic is history, and that Americans everywhere can look forward to a safer, a healthier, and a brighter future – both for themselves, and for their loved ones.  Thank you.

Updated December 8, 2017