Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, Kurt for that kind introduction. Thank you for your seven years of service to the Department of Justice and for your leadership now as United States Attorney.
I want to thank Lenette for hosting us here today. And thank you for all of the work that you do to help people walk the difficult road to recovery. And thank you to the other compassionate treatment providers who are here.
It is an honor to be with you all. I am here today to discuss some of the actions that the Department of Justice has taken to help end our nation’s drug crisis—actions that I believe benefit us all.
But before I do that, I want to say thank you to everyone here who helps us fight the drug epidemic—especially our fabulous law enforcement officers.
I want to thank Tim McDermott of the DEA, Acting U.S. Marshal Rod Ostermiller, Ian Blair with the Secret Service, Supervisory Probation Officers Marty Hylland and Brian Farren, Steven Osborne of the IRS, Greg Kosiarek with our Postal Inspectors, Michael Stewart of Customs and Border Protection, Montana Chief Deputy Attorney General Jon Bennion, and Colonel Tom Butler of the Montana Highway Patrol. Thank you for your service.
There can be no doubt that this is 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 nearly the population of Missoula—dead in one year from drug overdoses.
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.
We recognize that the drug crisis is taking a toll on our Native American tribes. According to one report, Native Americans had the highest drug overdose death rates in 2015. I know that Kurt and his team have prosecuted a number of drug trafficking cases affecting Indian country here. I heard about Operation Glacier Melt, for example. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, FBI, IRS, BIA, and DEA formed Operation Glacier Melt, which was an OCDETF operation around the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. In that operation alone, you put 22 defendants in prison for drug trafficking and money laundering.
Here in the West, there is also the threat of methamphetamine.
In 2016, more than 7,500 Americans lost their lives to a methamphetamine overdose. And this number is a sharp increase as well.
Most of our DEA agents in the West tell us that methamphetamines are a bigger problem in their area than heroin is.
But both of these threats are growing. According to the Montana Department of Justice, methamphetamine violations in this state rose by more than 400 percent from 2010 to 2015. Meanwhile heroin violations increased 1,500 percent.
These are not just numbers. When we talk about drug abuse and addiction, we are talking about the lives of moms, dads, daughters, spouses, friends, and neighbors. We are talking about the lives of fellow Americans.
That includes Natalie Dietrich, a student at Montana State, who was given a synthetic opioid at a concert in Bozeman. She was an economics student. She had a promising life ahead of her, but now that is a future we will never see.
It includes Caden Fowler, from Hamilton, Montana, who was found dead at home of an opioid overdose at just 16 years old. Caden’s mom Brandi is an outspoken advocate who is working to prevent the spread of drug abuse, and I want to commend her for that.
And we also remember the story of Kenzley Olson, of Poplar, Montana. Kenzley was a 13-month old baby who was sick with the flu. She wouldn’t stop crying. The woman who was watching her was high on methamphetamine and, in a fit of rage, beat her to death.
There are many stories like these—stories that are heartbreaking.
But we are not going to accept the status quo. This is not business as usual.
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.
At the Department of Justice we embrace that goal. As a nation, we prescribe too many opioids. In 2015, for every 10 Montanans, there were nine opioid prescriptions.
Tomorrow the DEA will hold its semiannual National Drug Takeback Day. Last year’s two events took more than 900 tons of potentially dangerous drugs off of our streets. And so I urge all Americans to participate in the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day tomorrow.
For example, early last year DEA, Homeland Security, and local law enforcement executed search warrants on the residence of an alleged drug trafficker in Great Falls, Montana. They seized numerous firearms, 15 pounds of methamphetamine, and nearly $250,000 in cash. Now that trafficker has been sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Back in August, DEA worked with state and local law enforcement to seize 17 pounds of methamphetamine that was on its way to Billings from the Southwest.
Just a week ago, DEA and Customs and Border Protection agents seized more than 85 pounds of suspected methamphetamine that was allegedly being trafficked by the Sinaloa Cartel.
But the number one killer drug in the United States as a whole is fentanyl. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl killed 20,000 Americans in 2016.
Most fentanyl doesn’t come from here. The vast majority of it is made in China and then shipped here either through the mail or brought across our porous Southern border.
Fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroin. It’s so strong that just a few grains—the size of a pinch of salt—can be fatal.
That’s why this Department of Justice has had a special focus on fentanyl, tripling fentanyl prosecutions from 2016 to 2017.
In October, the Department announced the first-ever indictments of Chinese nationals for fentanyl trafficking in the United States.
And earlier today I announced the unsealing of two indictments charging 10 additional defendants, including four Chinese nationals and six defendants from the East Coast of the United States. In total, 32 defendants have been charged as part of this law enforcement operation.
The defendants allegedly sold fentanyl and fentanyl analogues in 11 states from coast to coast—from Oregon to Ohio to Florida.
They and their co-conspirators allegedly shipped fentanyl and fentanyl analogues from China through the mail—and it killed people in North Carolina, New Jersey, Oregon, and North Dakota.
While we have suffered the worst drug crisis in our history, we’ve also seen violent crime on the rise. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
If you want to collect a drug debt, you collect it with the barrel of a gun. As surely as night follows day, violence and death follow drug trafficking.
From 1992 to 2014, crime declined in America. But from 2014 to 2016, however, the trends reversed. The violent crime rate went up by nearly seven percent. Robberies went up. Assaults went up nearly 10 percent. Rape went up by nearly 11 percent. Murder increased by more than 20 percent.
Here in Montana, the violent crime rate went up nearly 14 percent; rape increased nearly five percent; aggravated assault increased nearly 15 percent, and robbery increased by nearly 30 percent.
According to a Department of Justice study, nearly a quarter of the increase in homicides is the result of the increase in drug-related homicides.
That study’s findings are reaffirmed by what Kurt tells me, that that methamphetamine trafficking is driving much of the crime here in Montana.
Some people will tell you that law enforcement doesn’t make much of a difference. They think that crime is like the tides, going up and down and we just can’t do anything about it.
I utterly reject that view.
At the Department of Justice, we believe that through legal reforms, more sophisticated policing strategies, and investment in our officers, we can reduce crime in America.
The day I was sworn in as Attorney General, President Trump sent me an Executive Order that directs us to reduce crime in America—not to preside over ever-increasing levels of crime.
The centerpiece of our crime reduction strategy is a tested and proven strategy called Project Safe Neighborhoods.
Here’s how it works. First of all, I’ve ordered Kurt and our other United States Attorneys to target and prioritize prosecutions on the most violent people in the most violent areas.
Second, I’ve ordered them to engage with a wide variety of stakeholders—from police chiefs to mayors to community groups and victims’ advocates—in order to identify the needs specific to their communities and develop a customized violent crime reduction plan. This builds on another executive order from the President – Back the Blue.
PSN provides a framework that can be adapted to the situation on the ground in local communities across the country.
And, like I said, it has been proven to work. One study showed that, in its first seven years, PSN reduced violent crime overall by 4.1 percent, with case studies showing reductions in certain areas of up to 42 percent. There are Americans who are alive and well today because this program made a difference. We’ve asked congress for $140 million for local grants to use for cooperative crime fighting initiatives.
I believe that it will work again—including right here in Montana.
When we invest in our law officers and work with local communities, we get results.
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. You do make a difference. You make a difference every day.
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.