Georgetown University Screening is Part of Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, President [John] DeGioia, for that kind introduction and for your outstanding leadership of Georgetown University – a distinguished institution of higher learning, a proud incubator of public servants and a vital voice for social justice. I also want to acknowledge two of my valued colleagues who are with us here tonight and whom you will hear from after the film: Acting DEA Administrator [Chuck] Rosenberg and FBI Director [Jim] Comey. Both the DEA and the FBI are on the front lines of our fight to end the opioid epidemic and I want to thank them for their dedication and tireless work combatting this epidemic. I also want to acknowledge Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia [Channing] Phillips for his work on these issues. I want to thank Director [Monty] Wilkinson and his team at the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys for providing funding to every U.S. Attorney’s Office so that they can screen Chasing the Dragon in their districts this week. I also want to thank them for distributing nearly 1,000 copies of this critical film to our community partners nationwide – an invaluable contribution to this week of awareness and action. I want to recognize the many people in the room who have helped to make this week of action on heroin and opioid addiction such a success. And finally, my thanks to all of you. Whether you work in law enforcement, healthcare, academia, drug prevention – or if you’re a student – each of you has an essential role to play in confronting this devastating epidemic and I want to thank you for being here.
For those of us who work in law enforcement, opioid addiction has quickly emerged as an urgent challenge of daunting proportions. Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Services reported its finding that 3.8 million people ages 12 and up are currently misusing prescription pain relievers in our country. That’s a staggering number and it reflects the fact that the opioid epidemic is indifferent to race, class, age, or geography. It affects both the young and the old; the poor and the rich; rural communities and major cities. It is truly a national problem – and it requires a national solution.
That’s why President Obama signed a proclamation declaring this week as Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week. Today, as part of that effort, I issued a memo to the field identifying the three main pillars that must be part of our national strategy for combatting this epidemic. We must prevent individuals from succumbing to addiction or opioid overdose deaths. We must investigate and prosecute strategically in order to deter and punish those most responsible for this epidemic – whether they are leaders of drug trafficking organizations, or rogue healthcare professionals who divert opioids. And we must provide treatment to the people who are grappling with addiction. Prevent, enforce and treat – to be successful in this battle, we must do all three.
And let’s make no mistake: We must be successful. We owe it to our friends, our neighbors and our children. Yesterday, I was in Kentucky, which, as many of you know, is being ravaged by this epidemic. In Lexington, I had a chance to meet with participants in the Heroin Education Action Team, a partnership between the U.S. Attorney’s Program and families who have lost children and siblings to this epidemic. It was heartbreaking to hear their stories. Some brought photos of their children to the meeting. I saw baby pictures, photos of young boys wearing bowties in their school photos, graduation photos. I saw so much life. I saw so much promise – all of it stolen away far too soon.
But despite the devastation these families had experienced, they were taking action, so that other families would be spared the pain that they feel so deeply every single day. Along with federal and local law enforcement partners, they are out in the community, educating people about the dangers of this epidemic. One woman in the program takes the urn holding the ashes of her daughter with her when she speaks to children. She said kids see her on the street and say, “There’s the woman whose daughter is in a vase because she did drugs.” And these families are not just going to schools. They are also going to police roll calls and to prisons to talk about the effect that drugs had on their families. They are doing their part. And we must do ours.
The film you are about to see is just one of the many ways that the Justice Department is working to spread the word about the real dangers and unspeakable costs of the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic. Chasing the Dragon was produced a few months ago by the FBI and the DEA to serve as a conversation starter in classrooms, homes, community centers and churches. It makes clear, in the most powerful and visceral terms, that the opioid epidemic ruins lives, destroys families and weakens communities. It shows the ways that epidemic contributes to other crimes like theft and even homicide. And it offers a sobering lesson to all of us: that prescription drug abuse and addiction can happen to anyone, in any community, at any time.
The stories in Chasing the Dragon are real. Some of the people who appear in the film are with us tonight – and I want to take this opportunity to thank them, both for speaking their truth and for bearing witness on behalf of those whose voices have been stilled by this scourge. And I want to ask all of you to be part of the solution, too. Help us carry this conversation beyond this room and beyond this week. Talk about what you’ve seen tonight with your friends, your families, your classmates and your peers, so that they have the knowledge they need to make good decisions and to stay safe.
The only way we can end this epidemic is by adopting an all-hands approach that brings together law enforcement officers, community leaders, medical professionals and ordinary citizens in a united front against this destructive epidemic. Simply by being here tonight, you are joining us in taking a stand against heroin and opioid abuse and I want to thank you for your time and commitment. Let’s keep this going – and let’s not stop until we achieve a brighter and healthier future for every American in every community. Thank you.