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Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at the U.S. Conference of Mayors


Washington, DC
United States

Good morning, everybody.

Mayor Suarez, thank you very much for that overly kind introduction. And it is great to be back here with all of you for the 91st Winter Meeting.

The United States Department of Justice, as Mayor Suarez said, has a wide-ranging and urgent mission: to uphold the rule of law, to keep Americans safe, and to protect civil rights.

But we cannot do this work alone. The mayors gathered in this room are the Justice Department’s indispensable partners.

So, on behalf of the entire Department of Justice, I want to thank you for your leadership and for your continued partnership.

The strength of that partnership has never been more important than it is today – particularly when it comes to confronting the fentanyl epidemic.

Across the country, fentanyl is devastating families and communities. 

According to the CDC, more than 107,000 people in the United States died of drug overdoses in 2021. And about two-thirds of those deaths involved synthetic opioids – primarily fentanyl.

This nearly invisible poison is 50 times more potent than heroin. Just two milligrams of fentanyl – the amount that could fit at the tip of a pencil – is a potentially lethal dose.

And increasingly, we are finding that many people who are taking fentanyl do not even know that they are taking it.

That is because violent drug cartels are manufacturing and moving fake pills that are designed to look exactly like brand name drugs. Instead, the fake pills contain deadly amounts of fentanyl.

The DEA has seen a sharp increase in the deadliness of fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills across the country.

In 2022, six out of 10 fentanyl-laced, fake prescription pills that were seized contained a potentially lethal dose. That is an astounding increase from an already terrible statistic of 2021, when four out of 10 such pills contained a potentially lethal dose.

In addition, we know that cartels are marketing rainbow-colored pills that look like candy or prescription medication. They often come in tablet form or in a block that resembles sidewalk chalk. 

These pills, too, often contain fentanyl. And we know from lab testing that this “rainbow fentanyl” is just as dangerous and deadly as other forms.

Each of you understands better than most the human toll of this crisis. As mayors, you have witnessed firsthand the devastation wrought by fentanyl poisonings and overdoses.

You have seen the lives lost. You know the families and communities that have been devastated.

And you have witnessed the additional demands and dangers being placed on the police officers who must respond to this crisis.

Recently, DEA Administrator Anne Milgram and I met with the families of victims of fentanyl poisoning from around the D.C. area. The victims ranged in age from 17 to 64 years old. Among them were gifted musicians, athletes, and loving friends.

A parent who spent his Sundays after church playing football. A young woman who was planning to go to community college. A young man who was looking forward to being a father. 

Each of them was killed by fentanyl poisoning. Each story was tragic and heartbreaking.

Too many lives have been lost to drug poisoning and overdose. Too many families – too many communities – have been shattered by this crisis.

The Department of Justice is using every tool at our disposal to save American lives:

We are working tirelessly to get deadly fentanyl out of our communities.

We are doing everything in our power to dismantle and hold accountable the cartels that put it there.

We are dedicating our resources to supporting programming that addresses the public health challenges of addiction and abuse.

And we are doing all of this in collaboration with our state, local, Tribal, and territorial partners.

First, our agents and prosecutors are working closely with their partners across the country to conduct investigations, arrest traffickers, and seize deadly fentanyl. Last year, DEA agents conducted investigations in communities across the country, including dozens of cartel-linked investigations.

In 2022, the DEA and its law enforcement partners seized more than 50.6 million fentanyl-laced, fake prescription pills. That is more than double the amount seized in 2021.

The DEA has also seized more than 10,000 pounds of fentanyl powder.

Together, these seizures represent more than 379 million potentially deadly doses of fentanyl.

That much fentanyl could kill every single American.

We are also working closely with our partners at home and abroad to hold accountable those who are responsible for this crisis.

DEA is focusing its efforts on disrupting the two cartels that are responsible for significant quantities of fentanyl crossing the U.S.-Mexico border: the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation Cartels.

Last week, I joined President Biden and other cabinet members in Mexico City for meetings with our counterparts in the Mexican government.  

There, we discussed dramatically stepping up our countries’ joint efforts to combat fentanyl trafficking. This includes disrupting the flow of precursor chemicals coming from the People’s Republic of China to Mexico, and dismantling the clandestine labs where cartels use those chemicals to synthesize fentanyl in Mexico.

And in districts across the country, our agents and prosecutors are working every day to bring to justice those who endanger our communities with deadly drugs.

Just yesterday for example, in the Middle District of Georgia, an indictment was unsealed charging nine defendants with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine and fentanyl. Two of the defendants were also indicted on federal firearm charges.

And just last week:

In the Southern District of California, an individual was sentenced for distributing fentanyl that resulted in the fatal overdose of a 30-year-old.

In the District of Minnesota, two individuals were sentenced for their roles in a fentanyl trafficking conspiracy targeting the Red Lake Indian Reservation.

In the District of Colorado, an individual was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to distribute fentanyl and distributing fentanyl resulting in death.

Evidence presented at trial established that between 2017 and 2018, the defendant imported tens of thousands of pills laced with fentanyl from Mexico to the United States, resulting in a young man’s death in [2017].

In the Western District of Virginia, we charged an individual with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute fentanyl, methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine. 

He was also charged with possessing a firearm in furtherance of his drug trafficking. The defendant is alleged to have possessed over 10,000 fentanyl pills and a kilogram of fentanyl powder.

And, earlier this month, in the Eastern District of Virginia, we secured the guilty plea of an individual who sold pills to a 14-year-old.

The pills were purported to be a brand name painkiller. In fact, they were laced with fentanyl. Five days after the sale, the 14-year-old died of a fentanyl overdose.

These cases are emblematic of the work our agents and prosecutors are doing every day, together with their state and local partners, to disrupt fentanyl trafficking and save lives.  

Now, in addition to our enforcement efforts, we are committed to supporting communities to meet the public health challenges of addiction and substance abuse.

Last year, our Office of Justice Programs announced grant awards totaling more than $340 million to address the overdose epidemic.

Those awards go toward supporting drug and treatment courts; residential treatment programs; prevention and harm reduction services; recovery support; services for opioid-affected youth; and community-based strategies that improve continuity of care.

In the coming year, our Office of Justice Programs expects to make available even more funding for these programs. These programs will help expand access to support and treatment that people struggling with addiction and substance abuse need to recover.

As with all of the Department’s efforts to keep our country safe and combat violent crime, the success of our work continues to depend on close collaboration with our partners.

All of our 94 United States Attorney’s Offices continue to work alongside their state and local partners to develop and implement district-specific violent crime reduction strategies.

And the Department’s grantmaking components continue to provide financial assistance to local law enforcement agencies.

Last year, through our Office of Community Oriented Policing Services – or COPS – we awarded more than $139 million in funding for the COPS Hiring Program.

These grants enable law enforcement agencies across the country to hire additional full-time law enforcement professionals. In the coming year, we will award even more, with over $224 million dedicated to the COPS Hiring Program.

Our grantmaking components also offer support, targeted technical assistance, and help to agencies to uplift best practices in the field.

And each of our law enforcement components continues to work with its state, local, Tribal, and territorial law enforcement partners to seize illegal guns and deadly drugs and to apprehend the most dangerous fugitives.

We are grateful for the continued partnership of America’s mayors in this work.

And we are committed to continue working with you to protect our communities.

Thank you all very much.

Drug Trafficking
Prescription Drugs
Updated January 20, 2023