Justice News

Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks on the Trump Administration's Response to the Opioid Epidemic
Tallahassee, FL
United States
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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Thank you, Chris, for that kind introduction, and thank you for 17 years of service in this office.

I’m honored to be here with you today.  I have visited more than 30 U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the past year, and I’m always inspired to meet with the attorneys, investigators, and officers who are in the trenches every day making us safer.

I want to thank all of the federal officers who are here with us today, including Charles Spencer of the FBI, Peter Stacey of the Secret Service, Pedro Guzman of DEA, John Wester of ATF, Acting U.S. Marshal Scott Wilson, and Mary Hammond with the IRS, and so many others.

As much as we 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.

That’s why I want to thank all of the state and local law enforcement officers who are here as well: Commissioner Rick Swearingen of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Colonel Spalding of Florida Highway Patrol, seven county sheriffs, five police chiefs, and so many others.  It is an honor to be with all of you.

President Trump and I are proud to stand with all of you as you work to protect law-abiding Americans, take criminals off of our streets, and keep dangerous drugs out of our communities.

Enforcing our drug laws has never been more important than it is right now—because today we are facing 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 the equivalent of the entire city of Daytona Beach dying from drug overdoses in a single year.

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.

This epidemic is being driven primarily by opioids – prescription painkillers, heroin, or even synthetic drugs like fentanyl.  In 2016, opioid overdoses killed 42,000 Americans.

We are experiencing death rates the likes of which we have never seen before.  By the time I have finished speaking, another American will have died of an opioid overdose.

Sadly, Florida knows these tragic consequences all too well.

According to the CDC, the drug overdose death rate increased statewide by nearly 50 percent in just one year—from 2015 to 2016.  Fentanyl-related deaths nearly doubled, and methamphetamine-related deaths nearly tripled.  In just one year, more than 5,700 Floridians died of opioid overdoses.

And as we all know, these are not just numbers – these are moms, dads, daughters, spouses, friends, and neighbors.

Sadly, even newborn babies are suffering because of this epidemic.  By the time this speech is over, another baby will be born in the United States who is physically dependent on opioids.

Tomorrow, I will have the opportunity to visit the University of Alabama Birmingham’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  I’m looking forward to meeting with some of the compassionate doctors, nurses, and social workers who help women and children make the difficult transition to healthier, drug-free lives.

But the helpless babies born dependent on drugs show us the terrible consequences of addiction.  And they show us that this crisis affects everyone.

But here’s my message: this administration will not stand back as addiction shatters our families and devastates our communities.  We will take action and we will make a difference.

President Trump has been clear from the beginning that fighting this epidemic is a priority for this administration.  He believes that we can defeat the scourge of drugs and save thousands of Americans from addiction and death.  And he is right.

On Monday, President Trump announced the next steps this administration would take in our efforts to end the drug crisis.

His plan deals with every aspect of this crisis.  And it includes some marching orders for us in federal law enforcement.

First of all, the President has voiced his strong support for the Department of Justice’s new Prescription Interdiction and Litigation—or PIL—Task Force.

I created this task force last month to focus on and coordinate the Department’s efforts to investigate, prosecute or bring lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors who have unlawfully contributed to this epidemic.

The Task Force will examine potential recommendations for changes in the laws we have on the books.

Just as importantly, it will also consider assisting with ongoing state and local government lawsuits against opioid manufacturers.

In fact, we are already supporting, with a statement of interest, ongoing multi-district litigation by the city of Delray Beach, Baptist Hospital, and Jay Hospital, as well as more than 500 jurisdictions around the country against opioid manufacturers and distributors.  Taxpayers have borne heavy costs as a result of the drug epidemic, and we believe that the federal government ought to receive compensation by those who broke the law.

Much of that burden has been the result of health care fraud.

That’s why the President wants to expand the efforts of the Opioid Fraud and Detection Unit—which is a new data analytics program I announced in August. 

I created this unit to focus specifically on opioid-related health care fraud.  It uses data to identify and prosecute those who are contributing to this opioid epidemic.  This sort of data analytics team can tell us important information, like who is prescribing the most drugs, who is dispensing the most drugs, and whose patients are dying of overdoses.

As part of this initiative, I have assigned a dozen 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 next door in the Middle District of Florida.

These talented and experienced prosecutors work with the DEA, FBI, the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as our local partners to target and prosecute doctors, pharmacies, and medical providers who are exploiting the drug epidemic to line their pockets.  They have already begun issuing indictments.

This past summer, the Department announced the largest health care fraud takedown in American history.  We 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 allegedly committed more than $1 billion in fraud.

More than 120 of these defendants have been charged with opioid-related crimes, which means this was also the largest opioid-related fraud enforcement action in American history.

That will help shut off the flow of prescription painkillers to our streets—one of the main reasons that the opioid epidemic started in the first place.

But today we know that the drug epidemic has taken a dark turn from pain pills toward stronger, synthetic drugs.

Many of these drugs can be purchased online.  With a few clicks of a button, you can have deadly synthetic opioids shipped right to your door.

That’s why the President supports the work of J-CODE, the Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement team.  I ordered the creation of J-CODE back in January.

By bringing together DEA, our Safe Streets Task Forces, our drug trafficking task forces, Health Care Fraud Special Agents, and other assets, the FBI is effectively doubling its investment in the fight against online drug trafficking – dedicating dozens more Special Agents, Intelligence Analysts, and professional staff to focus solely on opioid sales online.

The J-CODE team will coordinate across the FBI’s 120 offices all around the world to target and disrupt the sale of synthetic opioids and other drugs on the darknet.

That will help us arrest more of the criminals selling these deadly substances online, shut down the marketplaces that drug dealers use – and ultimately it will help us reduce addiction and overdoses across the nation.

Last summer, 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.

I have no doubt that seizing this website has saved lives.

But our work is far from over.  That’s why I am announcing today a new initiative that will help us put drug traffickers right where they belong—in the slammer.

Today, I am announcing with Acting DEA Administrator Rob Patterson that the DEA will surge 250 task force officers—and dozens more analysts—to places across America where the opioid crisis is at its worst.

These new resources will help us catch and convict more of the drug traffickers and corrupt medical professionals who are fueling the opioid crisis.

And when we do, we will pursue the tough sentences they deserve.

Let’s be clear about this: drug dealers take lives every day in America.  As President Trump has said, career drug traffickers can take more lives than a mass murderer.

That’s why the President has ordered us to seek the death penalty in drug trafficking cases where it is appropriate to do so.  And just yesterday we began implementing this order at the Department.

The death penalty is available for drug dealers under Florida state law, and at the federal level it is available under certain circumstances of the kingpin statute.  The people’s representatives have voted for these laws because they intend for us to use them.

Plain and simple, drug traffickers show no respect for human dignity.  They put their own greed ahead of the safety and even the lives of others.

Drug trafficking leads directly to addiction and death across our country.  And it is also an inherently violent and deadly business.  If you want to collect a drug debt, you can’t file a lawsuit in court; you collect it with the barrel of a gun.

As surely as night follows day, violence and death follow drug trafficking.

That’s why we will be aggressive and we will prosecute the most serious, readily-provable offense we can. 

We cannot allow drug dealers to walk our streets thinking that they will get away with their crimes or that they will only get a slap on the wrist.  They need to know that this administration will not hesitate to pursue the maximum sentences allowed by law, including the death penalty.

Our message should be clear: business as usual is over. 

That’s why Congress should support these efforts.  Where our laws need to be strengthened, Congress should strengthen them.  Congress can be sure that those of us in this room today will carry them out faithfully and with vigor.  That’s what we do every day.

They can also be sure that we will get results.

Our mission is not hopeless.  Crime rates aren’t like the tides.  We can take action that can make a difference.

President Trump believes that our country can break the vicious cycle of drug abuse, addiction, and overdose that has devastated countless American families, and so do I.  The Trump Administration will continue to use every tool at our disposal to end this drug crisis. 

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.

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.

Topic(s): 
Drug Trafficking
Opioids
Prescription Drugs
Updated March 22, 2018