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Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks on the Fight Against the Opioid Epidemic and Violent Crime


Pittsburgh, PA
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery.


Thank you, Scott, for that kind introduction, and thank you for your six years of service to this Department.  You accomplished a lot in private practice, but you gave that up to serve your community and your country and now you’ve accomplished even more.  I know that several years ago, you helped take a heroin trafficking ring off of the streets in the Hazelwood neighborhood.  That’s exactly the kind of work that is needed across this country right now.


I also want to thank you for your hospitality.  This is my 33rd 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.


In particular I want to thank Sheriff Mullen, who has been in law enforcement for nearly half a century.  Bill is known as a humble guy, but he has a lot to be proud of.


Thank you Bob Johnson of the FBI, David Battiste of DEA, Mike Baughman with the Marshals Service, Don Robinson of ATF, Tim Burke of the Secret Service, Ed Wirth with the IRS, Tommy Coke with our Postal Inspectors, 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.


From 2014 to 2016, however, the trends reversed.  The violent crime rate went up by nearly seven percent.  Murder shot up by more than 20 percent.


Meanwhile, our country continues to suffer from 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 more than the population of Lancaster, Pennsylvania dead in one year.  And in 2017 it appears that the death toll was even higher.


For Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death.  Millions of Americans are living with the daily struggle of an addiction.


I don’t think it was a coincidence that violent crime and drug abuse rose at the same time.  I was just reading one of our Department-funded studies that found that nearly a quarter of the increase in homicides is the result of the increase in drug-related homicides.


And that should be no surprise: drug trafficking is an inherently violent business.  If you want to collect a drug debt, you can’t file a lawsuit in court.  You collect it by the barrel of a gun. Clearly, the deaths caused by drugs go far beyond overdose deaths. Clearly, allowing drug trafficking organizations and gangs to grow rich and powerful will result in more violence and death.


Sadly, Pennsylvania knows this all too well.


In 2016 in Pittsburgh, the violent crime rate was double the national average.  The murder rate and the robbery rate was triple the national average.  Pittsburgh is in the 77th percentile for violent crime overall, the 88th percentile for robbery, and the 90th percentile for murder.


Statewide, the violent crime rate went up between 2014 and 2016; the murder rate went up by more than eight percent, and rape went up by 16 percent.


In 2016, Pennsylvania saw a 37 percent increase in overdoses, with more than 4,000 Pennsylvanians losing their lives to drug overdoses.  That’s 13 a day. Allegheny County alone accounted for 650 deaths in 2016.  It is looking like 2017 will see another increase, but the preliminary data appears to show that the increase will not be as drastic.  This is also true nationally.


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


They include Jo Lawrence Stewart, age 7, from North Braddock.  He was found shot to death next to his Dad—who was also shot to death—inside their home a little more than a month ago.


And, of course, they include a man and a woman who overdosed and died at home.  Their helpless five-month old daughter was home alone with them. She starved to death in her bassinet over the course of three days.


The people in this community know these stories.  These stories are heartbreaking.


But we will not stand by and watch violence and addiction rise.  Plain and simple, we will not allow the progress made by our women and men in blue over the past two decades to simply slip through our fingers.  We will not cede one community, one block, or one street corner to violent thugs or poison peddlers.


As Attorney General, I am committed to combating violent crime and supporting the work of our police officers.  I have made it a top priority.


The day I was sworn in as Attorney General, President Trump sent me a simple, straightforward executive order: reduce crime in America.


At the Department of Justice, we embrace that goal.  And you and I know from experience that it can be done. Crime rates aren’t like the tides—we can take action to help bring them down.


And over the past year, we have taken action.  In 2017, the Department of Justice brought cases against the greatest number of violent criminals in a quarter of a century.  We charged the most federal firearm prosecutions in a decade.  We also arrested and charged hundreds of people suspected of contributing to the ongoing opioid crisis.


We secured the convictions of nearly 500 human traffickers and 1,200 gang members, and worked with our international allies to arrest or charge more than 4,000 MS-13 members.


MS-13 didn’t like that, by the way.  I saw a news report last week from Voice of America that the MS-13 gang leaders back in El Salvador have taken notice of these efforts.  They know that hundreds of their members are now behind bars.


 So now they’re trying to send younger and more violent gang members to the United States to replenish their depleted ranks.  But they will not succeed.


And we are beginning to see 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.


The preliminary data for Pittsburgh looks promising as well, with violent crimes declining by 13.3 percent and murders declining by 1.8 percent. This is very good news.


These are major accomplishments that benefit the American people.  And we could not have realized them without a true partnership between our federal team and our state and local law enforcement personnel.


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


That’s why today I am announcing a new resource that will build on steps I’ve already taken this past year to turn the tide.


In August I announced with the DEA 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 individuals that are contributing to this opioid epidemic.  This sort of data analytics team can tell us important information about prescription opioids—like who is prescribing the most drugs, who is dispensing the most drugs, and whose patients are dying of overdoses.


I also assigned 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 one right here in this office.


These talented and experienced prosecutors, like Robert Cessar, work with the DEA, FBI, the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as our state and local partners, to target and prosecute doctors, pharmacies, and medical providers who are exploiting the drug epidemic to line their pockets.  And they’ve already begun issuing indictments—including right here in Pittsburgh.


That will help us shut off the flow of prescription drugs to our streets.


There is no doubt that much of our addiction arises from prescription drug over use which leads to heroin and fentanyl. We are prescribing and consuming too many pain pills.


And you don’t have to go to a street corner to buy drugs.  With a few clicks of a button, you can go online and have them shipped right to your door.


A lot of criminals think that they’re safe online because they’re anonymous.


They’re in for a rude awakening.


This past summer, the Department announced the seizure of the largest dark net marketplace in history, Alpha Bay.  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.


This office has an impressive Darknet Fentanyl working group.  You work with the FBI, DEA, Homeland Security Investigators, the county Crime Lab, the state Attorney General, and the postal inspectors to stop fentanyl from reaching this community.  And you do amazing work. This cooperative effort is essential.


For example, thanks to investigations done by this working group, we’ve seen arrests from Seattle to Philadelphia to the United Kingdom.


Those are the kind of results we can achieve if we work together.


In the internet age, a criminal in Whitehall, Pennsylvania can communicate with a criminal in Whitehall, England in seconds.


But so can we.  So can law enforcement.


That’s why today I am announcing today a new resource to help you go after drug traffickers 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.


I believe that this new resource will fulfill a need that so far has not been met, and I am convinced that this new investment will pay dividends for the people of Pennsylvania.


It will help us make more arrests of those selling these deadly substances online as well as shutdown the marketplaces that these drug dealers use—and ultimately help us reduce addiction and overdoses in this community and across the nation.


Together we can do this.  We can bring down crime and give every American peace of mind. These never before seen overdose death rates and surging homicide rates must end. We can and will do it.


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.  We love you and honor your work.


You can be certain about this: we have your back and you have our thanks.

Drug Trafficking
Violent Crime
Updated January 29, 2018