Justice News

Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks Announcing the Prescription Interdiction and Litigation Task Force
Washington, DC
United States
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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Good afternoon, and thank you all for being here.

I want to start by thanking our Acting Associate Attorney General, Jesse Panuccio, our Acting DEA Administrator Patterson, and our state Attorneys General who have joined us here today: Patrick Morrissey of West Virginia, Brad Schimel of Wisconsin, Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, Ken Paxton of Texas, Leslie Rutledge of Arkansas, Sean Reyes of Utah, and my old friend Mike DeWine of Ohio.  Each of them has made combating opioid abuse a priority and has shown outstanding leadership.

I want to commend them for doing that—because today our nation is facing the deadliest drug epidemic in our history.

And make no mistake, this is not business as usual. It is the resolute policy of this Administration and this Department of Justice to reduce these overdose deaths, to reduce addiction, and to reduce the amount of prescription opioids in this county.

In 2016, an estimated 64,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses.  That is the highest ever recorded in our history, and follows a record increase in fatal overdoses.  Preliminary data suggest that 2017 was even worse—albeit with a much smaller increase.

The vast majority of these deaths are the result of opioids—prescription painkillers, heroin, and deadly new synthetic drugs like fentanyl.

In the United States, I recently read that we consume the vast majority of the world's hydrocodone and more than 80 percent of its oxycodone.  It is estimated that we use many times more opioids than is medically necessary for a population our size.  Millions of Americans are living with an addiction.

A recent study found that the opioid crisis has cost the United States $1 trillion since 2001.  Last year alone it cost us $115 billion.  The study estimates that over the next three years, it will cost us another half a trillion dollars.

President Trump has made ending this crisis a priority for this administration, and he has taken action from the beginning of his presidency.

Under his strong leadership, the Department of Justice has taken historic new actions to reverse the rising tide of addiction and death.

In July, we brought charges against more than 120 defendants, including a number of doctors, for crimes related to prescribing or distributing opioids and other dangerous narcotics.

A week later, I announced the seizure of AlphaBay, the largest criminal marketplace on the Internet. 

This site hosted some 220,000 drug listings – including more than 100 vendors advertising fentanyl – and was responsible for countless synthetic opioid overdoses, including the tragic death of a 13-year old in Utah.

In August, I created the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, a new data analytics program to help find evidence of overprescribing and opioid-related health care fraud. I then assigned 12 experienced Assistant United States Attorneys to opioid “hot-spots” to focus solely on investigating and prosecuting opioid-related health care fraud.  By November they had begun issuing indictments.

In October, the Department announced the first-ever indictments of Chinese nationals and their North American-based traffickers and distributers for separate conspiracies to distribute fentanyl and other opioids in the United States.

Also in October, the DEA announced the establishment of six new enforcement teams focused on combatting the flow of heroin and illicit fentanyl into the U.S.  These enforcement teams are based in communities facing some of the most significant challenges with heroin and fentanyl.

In 2017, the DEA held two of its National Prescription Drug Takeback Days, when people can dispose of unnecessary and potentially dangerous drugs with no questions asked. In total, DEA took more than 900 tons of drugs out of American communities.

In November, I ordered each of our 94 U.S. Attorney offices to designate an opioid coordinator—someone to customize our anti-opioid strategy in each district.

Last month, I announced a new resource to target traffickers who sell drugs online called J-CODE: Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement team.  The J-CODE team will coordinate efforts across the FBI’s offices all around the world – bringing together DEA, our Safe Streets Task Forces, drug trafficking task forces, Health Care Fraud Special Agents, and other assets – effectively doubling the FBI’s investment into fighting against online drug trafficking.

Also last month, I announced a 45-day surge of DEA Special Agents, Diversion Investigators, and Intelligence Research Specialists to focus on pharmacies and prescribers who are dispensing unusual or disproportionate amounts of drugs.

Earlier this month, the DEA placed all fentanyl analogues not already regulated by the Controlled Substances Act into Schedule I – the category for substances with no currently accepted medical use – for at least two years.  This makes it harder for people to acquire illicit fentanyl and easier for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute drug traffickers.

Today, I am announcing our next steps. 

First of all, the Department has hired an experienced federal prosecutor to lead our anti-opioid efforts: Mary Daly.

Mary previously served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York and the Eastern District of Virginia, where she supervised the Narcotics unit and was the opioid coordinator.  Over her 13 years as a federal prosecutor, Mary has focused on the prosecution of transnational drug trafficking organizations.

Mary will serve as Director of Opioid Enforcement and Prevention Efforts.  She will help us formulate and implement initiatives, policies, grants, and programs relating to opioids, and coordinate these efforts with law enforcement.       

Second, we are attacking this crisis at its root: the diversion and overprescription of opioid painkillers.  Today I am announcing the Prescription Interdiction & Litigation—or PIL—Task Force.  The PIL Task Force will focus in particular on targeting opioid manufacturers and distributors who have contributed to this epidemic.

We will use criminal penalties.  We will use civil penalties.  We will use whatever tools we have to hold people accountable for breaking our laws.

The Task Force will work closely with the Department of Health and Human Services, and it will coordinate with law enforcement at all levels.

The Task Force will examine potential legislative and regulatory changes in existing laws.  

I am also ordering the Task Force to examine existing state and local government lawsuits against opioid manufacturers to determine if we can be of assistance.

In fact, we are already getting involved in these cases.  I am announcing today that the Department will file a statement of interest in a lawsuit against a number of opioid manufacturers and distributors for allegedly using false, deceptive, and unfair marketing of opioid drugs.

The federal government has borne substantial costs as a result of the opioid crisis. The Medicare prescription drug program, for example, paid more than $4 billion for opioids in 2016.

The hard-working taxpayers of this country deserve to be compensated by those whose illegal activity contributed to those costs.  And we will go to court to ensure that the American people receive the compensation they deserve.

These are not our last steps.  We will continue to attack the opioid crisis from every angle.  And we will continue to work tirelessly to bring down the number of opioid prescriptions, reduce the number of fatal overdoses, and to protect the American people.

Topic(s): 
Prescription Drugs
Updated February 27, 2018