Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, Secretary Azar, for that kind introduction, and for all that you do for the health and well-being of the 47 million seniors in this country.
Thank you to Commissioner Clayton for your remarks, for your hospitality, and most importantly for your work to protect seniors from financial exploitation.
I also want to thank Robert Blancato, William Benson, and Dr. Laura Mosqueda, who will be sharing their insights and experiences later this morning.
Thank you to all of our panelists and the 11 other agencies represented on the Council. It has been a pleasure to work with each of you in our shared effort to protect senior citizens.
After all, seniors are some of the most respected and cherished members of our communities.
We look to them for guidance, for wisdom, and for encouragement. Each one of us has received many blessings through their hands—and it is no exaggeration to say that the country we enjoy today is largely the fruit of their labor.
Many seniors have spent most of their lives working, saving, and sacrificing so that they could enjoy a secure retirement.
Criminals can take that away in a matter of minutes.
Each year, an estimated $3 billion are stolen or defrauded from millions of American seniors. Through “grandparent scams,” fake prizes or even threats, criminals prey on some of the most vulnerable Americans to steal their hard-earned savings and their peace of mind.
And it appears as though this threat is only growing. The Senate Aging Committee's Fraud Hotline received twice as many reports in 2016 as it received in 2015.
Fraud targeting seniors is so common that no victim should feel ashamed to come forward and report it. It can happen to anyone. In fact, several members of my staff have told me about their grandparents being targeted by fraudsters.
But in the Trump administration, we’re not going to tolerate this.
Since last year’s meeting of this council, the Department of Justice has taken historic new action to keep our seniors safe.
In January, I ordered all 94 of our U.S. Attorneys’ offices to each designate an elder justice coordinator, who will customize our strategy to protect seniors in their district. This will ensure even greater cooperation between the Department of Justice and our law enforcement partners at the state and local levels. We believe that will help us complete more cases and secure more convictions of those who prey upon seniors.
In February I announced the largest elder fraud enforcement action in American history. We charged more than 200 defendants with committing fraud schemes against elderly Americans and we brought civil actions against dozens more.
The defendants in these cases allegedly robbed more than one million American seniors of more than half a billion dollars.
These crimes against vulnerable seniors are despicable. But they are all too common.
Secretary Azar mentioned estimates that about one in ten seniors in America is abused at some point. This number may be an underestimate—as many crimes go unreported.
Often this abuse is a result of the opioid epidemic, which is the subject of today’s discussion.
This country is awash in prescription opioids. Mounting evidence shows that we are prescribing too many and that the consequences can be devastating.
President Trump wants to reduce opioid prescriptions by one third over the next three years. It is an ambitious goal but I think we can achieve it.
This crisis impacts the elderly in many significant ways.
You know the stories: family members need drug money and resort to theft or fraud; life savings are lost paying for treatment for a son or daughter—treatment that may or may not work.
And according to a recent report from CBS News, more than 1 million American children live with their grandparents primarily because that child has parents addicted to opioids. That places an enormous physical and financial strain—especially on those on fixed incomes.
Sometimes seniors themselves become addicted and dependent on drugs—drugs often paid for by Medicare. In 2016, one third of seniors on Part D received an opioid prescription.
According to one recent study, from 1996 through 2010, the number of opioid prescriptions provided to older patients increased nine-fold. The hospitalization rate for opioid abuse quintupled among seniors in 20 years. And more than 1,000 American seniors died of opioid overdoses in 2016.
The opioid crisis is the deadliest drug epidemic in our history. It should be no surprise that a crisis on this scale affects everyone—young and old, rich and poor.
At this Department, we are attacking this crisis at its roots. We are cutting off the supply of drugs flowing into our communities and we are arresting the doctors and the traffickers who are exploiting the drug epidemic for profit.
Since January 2017, we have charged more than 150 doctors and another 150 other medical personnel for opioid-related crimes. Sixteen of those doctors prescribed more than 20.3 million pills illegally.
We have indicted more than 6,500 defendants in opioid-related investigations and seized more than $150 million from them.
More is yet to come.
We’re going to keep up this pace. We will continue to prosecute the fraudsters, the crooked doctors, and the traffickers who are doing so much damage across this country and across all age groups.
I want to thank each of you again for your contribution to this effort. Each of us has a role to play—and not just those of us in government. I am confident that together we can put an end to this epidemic and ensure that every senior has the safety and peace of mind that they deserve.