Justice News

Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks About the Opioid Crisis
Raleigh, NC
United States
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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Bobby, for that kind introduction.  Bobby has been a federal prosecutor for nearly 24 years, and has helped prosecute a wide range of cases – from drug trafficking and money laundering to white collar corruption.

He was also involved with the criminal investigation that returned an original copy of our country’s Bill of Rights to North Carolina – a full 138 years after it was stolen during the Civil War.  Better late than never!

Bobby is also a member of my Advisory Committee, and I am grateful for all of the work he does for me, for our Department, and for the people of North Carolina.

I’m honored to be here with you all today to make three announcements about our fight against the opioid epidemic.

But before I do that, I want to congratulate Bobby and AUSA Lawrence Cameron and everyone in this office on the conviction you won yesterday against a doctor who conspired to distribute oxycodone.  Some of the numbers in the indictment are staggering.  Four of the top 11 oxycodone prescribing pharmacies in North Carolina are all located in a town with 22,000 people in it.  You did a great job of following the numbers to find evidence needed to stop a criminal from spreading addiction in this community.

I just came from Columbia, South Carolina, where I met with our 94 border security coordinators at the National Advocacy Center.  I told them that one of the reasons their work is so important is that most of the deadly drugs in America were brought over our border.

I was pleased to meet with them, and I am pleased to be here with you.  I have visited more than 30 U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the past year, and I’m always inspired to meet with the attorneys, investigators, and officers who are in the trenches every day making us safer.

That’s why I want to thank all of the federal officers who are here with us today, including Michael Stansburg of the FBI, Brandon Bridgeforth of the Secret Service, Rob Murphy of DEA, Wayne Dixie of ATF, Acting U.S. Marshal Robert Pettit, and so many others.

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.

That’s why I want to give a special thanks to all of the state and local law enforcement officers who are here as well: Colonel Glen McNeill with the North Carolina Highway Patrol, Secretary of Public Safety Erik Hooks, Jack Moorman with N.C. State University, our many county sheriffs and police chiefs and all of our other fabulous officers.  It is an honor to be with you.

I’d like to mention that there is one officer who isn’t with us here today: Deputy David Lee’Sean Manning.  Deputy Manning lost his life in the line of duty just over a month ago in Edgecombe County.  He served under Sheriff Atkinson, who is here.  Deputy Manning was a courageous, dedicated young man who wanted nothing more than to serve his community and provide for his beautiful little daughter.  We mourn his passing and our thoughts and prayers are with his family.

Our men and women in blue face danger each and every day, and President Trump and I understand that. 

We are proud to stand with you.  You are essential – you work to protect law-abiding Americans, take criminals off of our streets, and keep dangerous drugs out of our communities.

That work of enforcing our drug laws has never been more important than it is right now, because today we are facing the deadliest drug crisis in American history.  Approximately 64,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses in 2016 – the highest drug death toll and the fastest increase in that death toll in American history.

That’s more than enough people to fill Carter-Finley Stadium.  Imagine that: it’s as if the entire crowd at a Wolfpack game were to die from drug overdoses in one year.

Preliminary data show another—but what appears to be a smaller—increase for 2017.  Amazingly, for Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death.

This epidemic is being driven primarily by opioids – prescription painkillers, heroin, or synthetic drugs like fentanyl.  In 2016, opioid overdoses alone killed 42,000 Americans – five times the number from 17 years ago.

That’s one every 12 minutes.  That means that by the time I have finished speaking, another American will have died of an opioid overdose.

Sadly, North Carolina knows the tragic consequences of drugs and addiction all too well.

From 1999 to 2016, the number of fatal drug overdoses in North Carolina increased 440 percent.  Opioid-related deaths increased by 800 percent.

On average, at least three people die every day from opioid overdoses in North Carolina.

And as we all know, these are not just numbers – these are moms, dads, daughters, spouses, friends, and neighbors.

But we are not going to accept the status quo.  We will not allow this to continue.

Business as usual is over.  Ending the drug crisis is a top priority for the Trump administration.

President Trump has a comprehensive plan to end this national public health emergency.

He wants to improve our prevention efforts by launching a national awareness campaign about the dangers of opioid abuse.  He has set the ambitious goal of reducing opioid prescriptions in America by one-third in three years.  And he is a strong supporter of our law enforcement efforts.

We play a key role in the President’s plan—because law enforcement is crime prevention too. 

That’s why this Department is taking aggressive steps to prosecute those who would profit off of addiction.

I want to tell you about an announcement today that the DEA will propose a change to the way it sets opioid production limits.  Under this proposed new rule, if DEA believes that a company’s opioids are being diverted for misuse, then they will reduce the amount of opioids that company can make.

DEA would also be able to use other information when determining quotas, including from the Department of Health and Human Services, the FDA, the CDC, Medicare and Medicaid, and our partners in the states.

Which brings me to my second announcement.  The DEA has reached an agreement with 48 Attorneys General—including North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein—to share prescription drug information with one another in order to aid investigations.  DEA collects some 80 million transaction reports every year from manufacturers and distributors of prescription drugs.  These reports contain information like distribution figures and inventory.  DEA will provide our state partners with that data, and the states will provide their own information to DEA.  Much of that information will come from prescription drug monitoring programs, like the one here in North Carolina.  That will make both the DEA and our state partners more effective at finding evidence of crime.

I am also announcing today a major law enforcement action with our state and local partners in West Virginia, Ohio, and Michigan.  This morning we have charged more than 90 defendants and seized enough fentanyl to kill a quarter of a million people.  We have dismantled a major multistate alleged drug trafficking ring that had been allegedly operating for nearly 20 years.  Now they won’t threaten us with deadly drugs anymore.

A total of approximately 200 law officers at the state, local, and federal levels worked together to make this enforcement action possible.  I want to thank all of them for their outstanding work.  And I want to congratulate DEA, FBI, Homeland Security Investigations and the state and local partners who helped make this possible.

These three announcements build on the historic new efforts we’ve been making over the past year under President Trump.

We are aggressively attacking the gangs and cartels—damaging, weakening, and even destroying their distribution networks.

I’m sure you remember last spring when we indicted 83 Bloods in Charlotte.  More than 600 officers at all levels worked together to arrest 73 gang members in five states.  And just two months ago, we charged another 44 gang members in Charlotte.

This past summer, the Department announced the largest health care fraud takedown in American history.  DOJ coordinated the efforts of more than 1,000 state and federal law enforcement agents to arrest more than 400 defendants—including more than 50 doctors.  These defendants allegedly committed more than $1 billion in fraud.

More than 120 of these defendants have been charged with opioid-related crimes, which means this was also the largest opioid-related fraud enforcement action in American history.

At the end of March, along with our allies in Mexico, DEA destroyed more than half a million poppy plants allegedly owned by the Sinaloa cartel and seized 2,000 kilograms of suspected cocaine in Mexico—enough cocaine to kill 1 million people.

Just days later, 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.

Over the last few weeks, the DEA has seized a total of more than 64 kilograms of suspected fentanyl in cases from Detroit to New York City.  That’s enough to kill 21 million people—more than the population of New York State. 

That’s also in addition to more than 100,000 suspected counterfeit oxycodone pills DEA seized in California that were pressed with fentanyl. 

In total, from 2016 to 2017, we tripled the number of fentanyl prosecutions at the federal level.

We are right to celebrate these accomplishments, but we have to acknowledge that we still have a lot more work to do.

That is why our Department has put in place new tools to help you find and prosecute drug crimes.

One of these tools is the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit – a new data analytics program that focuses specifically on opioid-related health care fraud.  This sort of data analytics team can tell us important information, like who is prescribing the most drugs, who is dispensing the most drugs, and whose patients are dying of overdoses.

It’s the same kind of data that helped you win that conviction yesterday.

As part of this initiative, I have assigned a dozen experienced prosecutors in opioid hot-spot districts to focus solely on investigating and prosecuting opioid-related health care fraud.  I have sent these prosecutors to where they are especially needed, including nearby in the Middle District of North Carolina and the Eastern District of Tennessee.

In fact, just a few months ago, our opioid fraud prosecutor indicted seven people running a pain clinic for a conspiracy to distribute illicit painkillers in Eastern Tennessee.  The indictment alleges that approximately 700 patients of this clinic are now dead and that a significant percentage of those deaths were allegedly from overdoses on drugs they prescribed.

We have begun J-CODE, a new team at the FBI that focuses specifically on the threat of online opioid sales.

I could go on.  We are going to keep arming you with the tools that you need to keep drugs out of this community.  And we are going to keep up the pace.

We know that our mission is difficult, not hopeless.  Together, we can break the vicious cycle of drug abuse, addiction, and overdose that has devastated countless American families. 

And so I want to close by reiterating my deep appreciation and profound thanks to all the women and men of law enforcement – federal, state, local, and tribal – as well as their 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 April 17, 2018