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Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks at John F. Kennedy International Airport


New York, NY
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery 

Thank you, Director Russo, for that kind introduction.  I especially want to thank you and your brother for following in your Dad’s footsteps and going into law enforcement.  Thank you for 22 years of service making your hometown safer.

I also want to thank Phil Bartlett and our postal inspectors.  Phil, thank you for your 32 years in law enforcement.  And I appreciate Angel Melendez for his 20 years of federal law enforcement service and all of the Homeland Security investigators he leads.

And of course, thank you, Postmaster General Brennan for that tour of this impressive facility.  Postmaster Brennan started as a letter carrier and worked her way up; now she’s the first female Postmaster General in American history.  Thank you for your 30 years of service. 

Thank you to our CBP, DEA, Postal Inspection Service Agents who are here for the interdiction work you do every day.

I am here today to say thank you on behalf of President Trump.  He is your strongest supporter, and your work has never been more important than it is right now. 

We are facing the deadliest drug crisis in American history.  Based on preliminary data, approximately 64,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses last year.  That would be the highest drug death toll and the fastest increase in that death toll in American history.  And that would mean that more Americans died of drug overdoses last year than died from AIDS at the height of the AIDS epidemic or car crashes.  For Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death.

New York has not been immune to this problem.  Between 2014 and 2015, drug overdose deaths went up by 20 percent. 

And last year, New York City police investigated nearly 1,400 overdose deaths, an increase of 46 percent in just one year.

This crisis is driven primarily by opioids – prescription pain medications, heroin, and synthetic drugs like fentanyl.  In 2015, opioids were responsible for most of the fatal overdoses in this country, killing more than 33,000 Americans—quadruple the number from 20 years ago.  Last year, there were 1.3 million hospital visits in the United States related to these drugs.

To confront a crisis on this scale, we must take a comprehensive approach to the problem. 

We must improve our prevention, enforcement, and treatment.  If we fail to act on any one of these principles, then we won’t fix the problem—we’ll just change it.  And that would have devastating consequences.

Fortunately, we have a President who understands this.  He has a passion for this issue.  And he is taking action.  Yesterday President Trump took the rare step of declaring a public health emergency.   That will make a difference by getting more help to those who need it.

But this is far from the first step he has taken to end this crisis.  The President has already invested over $1 billion in funding for these efforts, including over $800 million for prevention, treatment, and supporting our first responders.

And the day I was sworn in as Attorney General, he sent me an executive order to go after transnational criminal organizations—including the cartels who profit off of addiction. 

The President recognizes that overprescribing helped start the opioid epidemic.  Under his leadership, the FDA is now imposing new requirements on opioid manufacturers. 

And he is taking steps to improve education for prescribers so that we don’t prescribe more drugs than are necessary and safe.  When excess drugs are sitting in our medicine cabinets, it’s that much easier for them to end up in the wrong hands.

That’s the idea behind DEA’s National Prescription Drug Takeback Day, which is tomorrow.  By giving people the opportunity to dispose of unnecessary and potentially dangerous drugs—with no questions asked—these events make all of us safer.  On the most recent one—back in April—nearly 38,000 pounds of prescription drugs were turned in just in New York State. 

Nationwide, we took in 900,000 pounds—450 tons—of drugs.  Through the first 13 Take Back events, DEA and its partners have taken in over 8.1 million pounds of pills.  Just imagine if those pills were on our streets today. 

I am convinced that these efforts save lives—because they prevent new addictions from starting. 

Prevention is what we at the Department do every day—because law enforcement is prevention.  Law enforcement helps keep illegal drugs out of our country, reduce their availability, drive up their price, and reduce their purity.  That saves lives.

That’s why this Department has been relentless in going after the criminals who are spreading addiction in America. 

This summer, the Department announced the largest health care fraud takedown in American history.  DOJ coordinated the efforts of more than 1,000 state and federal law enforcement agents to arrest more than 400 defendants—including more than 50 doctors.  These defendants have allegedly defrauded taxpayers of more than $1 billion.  More than 120 of these defendants have been charged with opioid-related crimes, which means this was also the largest opioid-related fraud takedown in American history.

In August I announced new resources to find and prosecute the fraudsters who help flood our streets with drugs.

The first new resource is a data analytics program called the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, which will help us find the tell-tale signs of opioid-related health care fraud by identifying statistical outliers.

They can tell us which physicians are writing opioid prescriptions at a rate that far exceeds their peers; how many of a doctor's patients died within 60 days of an opioid prescription; the average age of the patients receiving these prescriptions; pharmacies that are dispensing disproportionately large amounts of opioids; and regional hot spots for opioid issues.

The fraudsters lie, but the numbers don’t.  And now the fraudsters can’t hide.

I have also assigned experienced prosecutors in opioid “hot-spots” to focus solely on investigating and prosecuting opioid-related health care fraud in places where they are especially needed.

These prosecutors, working with the FBI, DEA, the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as our state and local partners, are helping us target and prosecute doctors, pharmacies, and medical providers who are exploiting this epidemic to line their pockets.

They’re already getting results.  Yesterday, I announced the very first indictment they have filed.  It’s a 14-count indictment of a doctor in Western Pennsylvania for illegally prescribing and dispensing opioid pills and morphine—often without an examination. 

According to the complaint, one patient—whose prescriptions were cut off by another doctor—came to see him and later died of a drug overdose.

Two days ago, the Department announced that a doctor in Rhode Island pled guilty to $750,000 of opioid-related fraud.  This doctor admitted to prescribing a highly addictive form of fentanyl in exchange for $188,000 in kickbacks from the drug company.  By his own admission, he lied to insurance companies and to Medicare so that they would cover unnecessary prescriptions. 

And just yesterday, we arrested that company’s CEO and charged him and six of their other executives with conspiracy to commit bribery and fraud.

Overprescribing is largely how we got into this crisis.  But it has become much deadlier with the spread of illicit fentanyl.

Drug dealers across America are making the drugs on the street stronger and deadlier by lacing heroin with fentanyl, which is 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin—and carfentanyl, which is even more potent than that. 

Just two weeks ago, the Department indicted two Chinese nationals for separate schemes to distribute massive quantities of fentanyl in the United States.  These are the first two Chinese nationals we have designated as Consolidated Priority Organization targets for our drug task forces.  And since most of the fentanyl in this country originated in China, I doubt they’ll be the last.

Fentanyl is the number one killer drug in America.  More than 20,000 Americans died of overdoses involving fentanyl last year.  And as deadly as it is, you can go online and order it through the mail.

In July, the Department announced the seizure of the largest dark net marketplace in history.  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 in Utah.  Orders on this website were fulfilled through the mail.

I’m told that you process more than 800,000 pieces of mail every day just at this airport, including a majority of international mail entering the United States.  I’m told that you intercepted 80 packages of fentanyl just in this last fiscal year.  I have no doubt that has saved lives.

We obviously need to do more, and I look forward to working with Postal Service, CBP and our other partners, to make sure we are being as effective as possible in indicting these deadly substances.

Frank told me about Thomas Pagano, who is here today.  Tom interdicted and seized more than 30 illicit fentanyl shipments in just two months.  Amazing work.

Our mail facilities are not the only method of entry for these deadly drugs. We must also stop the flow of all types of drugs that are coming over the southern border.

An unbelievable 90 percent of heroin in America comes from the south of the border. This must be stopped. A border wall is an important step in stopping this flow of drugs. But we also can’t ignore our maritime borders as well. I saw first-hand in San Diego the great work our partners at the Coast Guard are doing on this front. They seized more than 455,000 pounds of cocaine last year, a record. That is just incredible. 

Law enforcement in the New York area has done a heroic job in stopping illegal drugs.  In June, state and local police a few miles from here in Bergen County, New Jersey seized 120 kilograms of heroin. 

And in August, police in New Jersey seized nearly 200 pounds of fentanyl—enough to kill 32 million people, or ten percent of our nation.

These drugs are so powerful that they threaten your lives, too.  Exposure to even a few grains of airborne fentanyl can be fatal.  I’m sure you all remember the officer nearby in New Jersey who overdosed when a puff of fentanyl came up while he was removing the air from a plastic bag.  That’s why I was glad to see that you all take so many precautions in your work.

With synthetic drugs flooding our streets, drugs are now more powerful, more addictive, and more dangerous than ever.  But that’s also why our drug law enforcement efforts are more important than ever.

In confronting the worst drug crisis in our history, we need to use every lawful tool we have.  But if we do, there is hope.  I agree with the President, I’m convinced this is a winnable war.  And the good work I’ve seen today make me even more confident in that.

You can be sure of this: you have our thanks and this Department of Justice will always have your back. 

Thank you.

Updated December 8, 2017