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Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks at the Office of Justice Programs' National Institute of Justice Opioid Research Summit


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Matt for that kind introduction and thank you for your leadership at OJP.  Matt and I just paid a visit to Birmingham, Alabama, for this year’s Public Safety Partnership Conference.  Thank you for doing your part to make PSP—and so many other DOJ initiatives—successful.

Thank you to OJP for the hospitality and for hosting this important event.

I also want to thank NIJ Director Dr. David Muhlhausen for your leadership—first on the Senate Judiciary Committee and now at NIJ.

Thank you to Mary Daly, our director of opioid enforcement and prevention at the Department, and thank you to all of our partner agencies and organizations for being here.

Each one of you has a critical role to play in the fight against this epidemic.

But most of all—as always—I want to thank all of the police chiefs and law officers who are here.

While we at the Department are inexpressibly proud of our fabulous federal officers, we also understand and appreciate the fact that 85 percent of the law enforcement officers in this country serve at the state and local levels. 

Our shared work of fighting drug crime has never been more important than it is right now.

This issue is a top priority for the President.  Just yesterday he spoke to the United Nations about this problem. 

As he noted, according to the UN’s 2018 World Drug Report highlights, cocaine and opium production have hit record highs and global deaths caused by drug use have increased by 60 percent from the year 2000 to 2015. 

President Trump has declared the opioid crisis to be a national public health emergency and declared last week to be opioid and heroin epidemic awareness week. 

We are facing the deadliest drug crisis in American history.  We’ve never seen anything like it.

The CDC estimates that approximately 72,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses last year.  That’s highest drug death toll in American history—by far.

It is widely estimated that life expectancy has declined in the United States in recent years—largely because of drug abuse.

Meanwhile, millions of people are living with the painful consequences of a family member’s addiction or an addiction of their own.

I personally know people whose families have been torn apart by drug addiction.  It’s a safe assumption that most of you do, too.

We face a grave challenge.  But we have a unique opportunity to reverse these trends.  We have done it before, and we can do it again.  Failure is not an option.  We will not capitulate.

President Trump has a comprehensive plan to end what he has declared to be “a national public health emergency.”  The three legs of our plan include prevention, enforcement and treatment.  He and a bipartisan Congress have agreed to a billion dollar program.

He has improved our prevention efforts by launching a national awareness campaign about the dangers of opioid abuse—a campaign I strongly support.  In the long run, getting more and more people to reject use of these drugs in the first place is the best thing we can do. 

We must send clear and fact-based messages that do not excuse or minimize the dangers.

We must reduce the number of people who are sucked into the addiction vortex. As they move into the whirlpool, addiction, bankruptcy, divorce and death awaits.

The President has set the ambitious goal of reducing opioid prescriptions in America by one-third in three years—a goal we are determined to achieve. 

He recognizes that law enforcement plays a central role in crime prevention.

When we enforce our drug laws, we prevent addiction from spreading.  Law enforcement helps keep drugs out of our country, reduces their availability, drives up their price, and reduces their purity and addictiveness.  That saves lives. Experts tell us supply creates its own demand.

But, we lost proper emphasis on drug cases under the previous administration.

Drug trafficking prosecutions went down by 17 percent.  And the average sentence for a convicted federal drug trafficking offender got 15 percent shorter.

All while we were suffering from the worst drug crisis in our history.

And so, when I became Attorney General, I sought to validate, support and inspire our federal officers and our state and local officers to the importance of their work.

And in the districts where drug deaths are the highest, we are now vigorously prosecuting synthetic opioid trafficking cases, even when the amount is small.  It’s called Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge—or S.O.S.

Three milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal.  That’s equivalent to a pinch of salt.  Depending on the purity, you could fit more than 1,000 fatal doses of fentanyl in a teaspoon.

I want to be clear about this: we are not focusing on users, but on those supplying them with deadly drugs.

We tried this strategy in Manatee County, Florida—just south of Tampa—and it worked.  This past January, they had half the number of overdose deaths as the previous January.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office went from responding to 11 overdose calls a day to an average of one a day. 

We want to replicate those results.

And so I have also sent 10 more prosecutors to help implement this strategy in ten districts where drug deaths are especially high.

And that is in addition to the 12 prosecutors I sent to prosecute opioid fraud in drug “hot spot districts.”  To help them do that, we have begun a new data analytics program at the Department called the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit to use data that helps us find opioid-related health care fraud.

This team follows the numbers—like which doctors are writing opioid prescriptions at a rate that far exceeds their peers; how many of a doctor's patients have died within 60 days of an opioid prescription; and pharmacies that are dispensing disproportionately large amounts of opioids.

I have also sent more than 300 new federal prosecutors to our U.S. Attorneys offices across America.  This is the largest surge in prosecutors in decades.

We have also hired more than 400 DEA task force officers this year alone.  That’s a record increase.

All of these new tools have helped us deliver for the American people.

Since January 2017, we have charged more than 200 doctors and another 220 other medical personnel for opioid-related crimes. Just 16 of those doctors prescribed more than 20.3 million pills illegally.

Last summer we set a record for the largest health care fraud enforcement action in American history.

This summer, we broke that record.

We coordinated the efforts of more than 1,000 state and federal law enforcement agents to charge more than 600 defendants—including 76 doctors—with more than $2 billion in fraud.

This was the most doctors, the most opioid defendants we’ve ever charged in a single enforcement action. 

But sadly, these days 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 from overseas right to your door.

Last July, the Department announced the seizure of the largest dark net marketplace in history – AlphaBay.  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 January we began J-CODE, a new team at the FBI that focuses specifically on the threat of online opioid sales.  They have already begun carrying out nationwide enforcement actions, arresting dozens of people across the country.

Last month I announced charges against a married couple who we believe were once the most prolific synthetic opioid traffickers on the darknet in North America.  And we also worked with our partners in Canada to help them indict a man we believe was the third most prolific darknet synthetic opioid dealer in North America.

The vast majority of the fentanyl in this country is made in China.  And under President Donald Trump we became the first administration to prosecute Chinese fentanyl traffickers.

Last October, we announced the first two indictments against Chinese nationals for trafficking synthetic drugs in the United States.

Last month I announced our third case—a 43-count indictment against a drug trafficking organization based in Shanghai.

We are interdicting drugs coming into this country at record levels.

The Coast Guard seized record numbers of drugs in 2017: about half a million pounds total, worth about $6.1 billion.  The Coast Guard also helped us arrest more than 600 alleged drug traffickers.

In just the first three months of 2018, the DEA seized a total of more than 200 pounds of suspected fentanyl in cases from Detroit to Boston.  Depending on its purity, that can be enough to kill tens of millions of people.

In 2017, we tripled the number of fentanyl prosecutions at the federal level.

Our efforts are already having results.  As difficult as the situation is, we are beginning to make some progress. The President rightly wants results, not talk.

The DEA’s National Prescription Audit shows that in the first quarter of 2018, opioid prescriptions went down by nearly 12 percent compared to the first quarter of 2017, when President Trump took office.  And that's in addition to a seven percent decline in 2017.

And while 2017 saw more overdose deaths than 2016, data for the last months of the year show that the increases may have slowed.

And I would also like to mention that our anti-drug efforts are helping us achieve our other major priority: reducing violent crime in America.  As surely as night follows day—violence, addiction and death follow drug activity.

When the drug epidemic was accelerating—so were violent crime and murder.  That was no coincidence. 

In 2015, the homicide rate increased by 12 percent nationally.  And it increased again by eight percent in 2016.  Violent crime, rape, robbery, and assault increased during that time, too.

But preliminary data show that both the violent crime rate and the homicide rate are beginning to head back down.

Public data from 61 large cities suggest that violent crime overall was down in those cities in the first six months of 2018 compared to 2017. 

The overall violent crime rate in those cities is down nearly five percent and murder is down more than six percent.

The Brennan Center—hardly a pro-Trump institution—projects that the murder rate in our 29 biggest cities will decline by 7.6 percent this year—bringing the murder rate back down to 2015 levels in those cities.

Yesterday the FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report, which showed that violent crime and murder have stopped rising and actually declined in 2017.

We are right to celebrate these accomplishments, but we have to acknowledge that we still have a lot more work to do.

The Department of Justice is resolutely committed to breaking the vicious cycle of drug abuse, addiction, and overdose that has devastated countless American families.

The stakes have never been higher.  But neither has our determination.

And so—whether you are a doctor, a researcher, or a law officer on patrol—you can be certain about this: we have your back and you have our thanks.

Drug Trafficking
Prescription Drugs
Updated September 25, 2018