Justice News

Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks on the Department of Justice’s Efforts to Combat Drug Trafficking and End the Opioid Crisis
Tampa, FL
United States
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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Remarks as prepared for delivery.

 

Thank you, Maria, for that kind introduction.  And thank you for your 16 years of dedicated service to the Middle District of Florida.  This state and its people are safer because of your work prosecuting Columbian cocaine smugglers, Tampa crack dealers, and doctors and pharmacists overprescribing and illegally dispensing opioids.

I also want to thank you for your hospitality.  This is my 35th visit to a U.S. Attorney’s Office.  I’m always inspired to meet the attorneys, investigators, and officers who are in the trenches every day making us safer.

Thank you to my fellow prosecutor, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, for joining us.  Thank you for your leadership, and thank you for your service on President Trump’s Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission.  You’re having a big impact.

I also want to thank all of our federal law enforcement officers, especially Eric Sporre and Carlton Peeples of the FBI, Jeffrey Walsh of DEA, Bill Berger with the US Marshals Service, Daryl McCrary of ATF, and Billy Joe Powers of the Secret Service. 

And we know that 85 percent of the law officers in this country serve at the state and local levels, so I want to thank Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan, Sheriff Rick Wells, St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway, Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones, and all of our other law enforcement leaders who are here.

On behalf of President Trump, I am here to say thank you for your service to this country.

The President and I are proud to stand with all of you. He understands that law enforcement officers are not the problem—they’re the solution.

It was largely because of officers like you that crime declined in America for 20 years.  It was a historic transformation. But from 2014 to 2016, the trends reversed.  The violent crime rate went up by nearly seven percent.  Murder shot up by more than 20 percent.

We began to suffer the deadliest drug crisis in our history.  More Americans are dying because of drugs than ever before.  2016 saw an estimated 64,000 Americans die of drug overdose—one every nine minutes.  That’s nearly the population of Daytona Beach dead in one year.  And in 2017 it appears that the death toll may be even higher. 

This crisis is being driven primarily by opioids – prescription painkillers, heroin, and synthetic drugs like fentanyl.  In 2015, opioid overdoses killed 33,000 Americans – quadruple the number from 20 years ago.

Sadly, Florida knows this all too well.

Drug-related deaths increased 22 percent statewide from 2015 to 2016.  Fentanyl-related deaths jumped 97 percent, and methamphetamine-related deaths skyrocketed by 171 percent.  In just one year, we lost more than 5,700 Floridians – an increase of nearly 1,500 – to opioid-related deaths.

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

Last June, Alton Banks – a 10-year-old boy from Miami – died suddenly after returning home from a visit to the neighborhood pool.  An autopsy found heroin and fentanyl in his system.

Around two a.m. on New Year’s Eve 2016, a man and a woman were found dead outside their car on Interstate-4 near Daytona Beach.  Their three sons – ages 2, 1, and less than a year old – sat in the back seat, crying.  The couple had overdosed on fentanyl.

And who could forget the tragic story of Katie Golden, a 17-year-old from South Tampa.  She died last year after accidentally overdosing on heroin just a few weeks before she was scheduled to graduate high school.  She overdosed two days before Easter, and then three days later—on her mother’s birthday—she was taken off life support and died.

The people in this community know these stories.  

But let me tell you this: we will not stand by and let more of our friends, family members or neighbors get addicted or die of a drug overdose.  President Trump was clear in his State of the Union: fighting the opioid epidemic is a priority of this administration.  I have made it a priority for this Department.  

We have already achieved a number of successes in this effort, including in this office.

Last month, this office announced drug trafficking charges against 34 people as a result of Operation Hot Batch.

The same day, you announced the dismantling of an international heroin trafficking organization.  The ring leader will spend the next 27 years in federal prison, and the other members will serve collectively more than 122 years.

Just last week, this office announced that it had collected more than $700 million in civil and criminal actions in the last fiscal year – the largest aggregate recovery amount for the taxpayer in this district’s history.

I’m grateful for the hard work of those in this office who prosecuted these cases, including dedicated Assistant U.S. Attorneys like Natalie Adams, Cal Albritton, Dan Baeza, Carlton Gammons, Michael Gordon, Shauna Hale, Frank Murray, James Preston, Michael Sinacore, and Taylor Stout.

We have remained focused on reducing violent crime and drug activity, and we are already starting to see some positive signs.  In the first six months of last year, the increase in the murder rate slowed significantly and violent crime actually went down.  Publicly available data for the rest of the year suggest further progress.  This is thanks in large part to the great work of those of you in this room.

But of course, we still have a lot more work to do—especially in confronting the opioid epidemic.

Just yesterday, all fentanyl-related substances became scheduled on an emergency basis.  Fentanyl is the number one killer drug in America.  Scheduling and restricting all forms of this drug will make it easier for you and your agents to investigate and prosecute the drug traffickers.

Earlier this week, the DEA announced that it will now ask each individual practitioner—when they apply for a license or renew their license—whether they have received continuing medical education on prescribing or dispensing opioids.  

DEA also announced improvements to how it communicates with its more than 1.7 million registrants.  DEA can now send targeted information via email about the opioid epidemic, prescriber education, and answers to frequently asked questions about opioid prescribing.  For example, DEA can ensure that doctors have the CDC’s latest guidance on opioid prescribing, so that they don’t accidentally overprescribe.

These changes will help us prevent addiction from happening in the first place.

For those who act in bad faith, however, we also have new and more effective tools to find them and put them behind bars.

In August I announced a new data analytics program – the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit.  I created this unit to focus specifically on opioid-related health care fraud—using data to identify and prosecute abusers. 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.

DEA is already using this data for investigating packages across the country.  Last week, I announced that the DEA is conducting a 45-day surge in special agents, investigators, and analysts to generate more investigations based on these data packages.

Last week, I announced a new resource to target traffickers who illegally sell drugs online.  It’s called J-CODE: Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement team.

By bringing together DEA, our Safe Streets Task Forces, our drug trafficking task forces, Health Care Fraud Special Agents, and other assets, the FBI will more than double its investment in the fight against online drug trafficking—dedicating dozens more Special Agents, Intelligence Analysts, and professional staff to focus solely on this one issue.

The J-CODE team will coordinate across the FBI’s offices all around the world to target and disrupt the sale of synthetic opioids and other drugs on the darknet.

We’re going after darknet marketplaces like AlphaBay, a website we seized over the summer.  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.  Shutting down this online market will ultimately help us reduce addiction and overdoses in this community and across the nation.

Over the summer, I assigned 12 experienced prosecutors to opioid hot-spot districts across America to focus solely on investigating and prosecuting opioid-related health care fraud.  I have sent these prosecutors to where they are especially needed—including right here in this office.  Kelley Howard-Allen—who has been with this office for more than 15 years—has been designated your opioid fraud prosecutor, and that has allowed you to hire an additional Assistant U.S. Attorney, Greg Pizzo.  We have a saying in my office that an additional Assistant U.S. Attorney is “the coin of the realm,” and I know that Greg is helping you achieve more.

These talented and experienced prosecutors have already begun issuing indictments. I want to thank you all for your support of our anti-drug efforts.

This afternoon, I will be traveling to Key West to meet with the leadership of JIATF-South – the Joint Interagency Task Force which coordinates with federal law enforcement and our international partners to target transnational criminal organizations and to interdict drug trafficking in the Caribbean and the Pacific.

Tomorrow I will be in Miami for the Opioid Summit hosted by Admiral Tidd of Southern Command.  We will address strategies for interdicting fentanyl and other highly dangerous opioids.

Your superb new interim U.S. Attorney – Maria Chapa Lopez – was formerly the Deputy DOJ Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.  Foreign-posted DOJ prosecutors like Maria -- and the liaison agents assigned to these countries from the FBI, DEA, the Marshals Service and ATF – do great work with our courageous international partners on a daily basis. 

These meetings today and tomorrow follow up on meetings I have held all around the world as part of our efforts to prevent drug trafficking.  I have met multiple times with my counterparts from Mexico, Colombia, and the Northern Triangle countries, and those meetings have helped us create important joint initiatives.  I’ve met with leaders from China—which is the primary source country of the fentanyl in this country—to improve our efforts to stop these drugs from hurting Americans. 

We want to help you succeed.

Helping law enforcement do their jobs, helping the police get better, and celebrating the noble, honorable, and challenging work of our law enforcement communities will always be a top priority of President Trump and this Department of Justice.

Together we can stop the flow of drugs, bring down crime and give every American peace of mind.

I want to close by reiterating my deep appreciation and profound thanks to all the women and men of law enforcement—federal, state and local—and 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 – that you have dedicated your lives to – 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.

Topic(s): 
Drug Trafficking
Opioids
Updated February 7, 2018