Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you for that introduction, Mary [Brandenberger]. I am very happy to be here with the exceptional employees of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
I want to thank Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg for everything that you have done, and everything you will continue to do, to help to lead this agency.
I have known Chuck for about 16 years. He is an extraordinary public servant. DEA is in good hands.
I want the many law enforcement officers and first responders who are here today to know that Attorney General Sessions and I are committed to supporting you. You protect our communities and you keep our citizens safe. We are very grateful for your service.
The brave men and women of the DEA are at the forefront of a national crisis. Drug abuse is crippling families and communities throughout our country. Addiction and abuse cause suffering and harm with immense costs to society.
This is not a subjective interpretation. People are dying of drug overdoses in record numbers. We are not talking about a slight increase. There is a horrifying surge in drug overdoses.
Some people say that we should be more permissive, more tolerant, and more understanding about drug abuse. I say we should be more honest about this clear and present threat to our nation.
In 2015, more than 52,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses – 1,000 dead every week. More than 33,000 people died from heroin, fentanyl and other opioid drugs.
The preliminary numbers for 2016 show an increase to almost 60,000 deaths. That will be the largest annual increase in American history.
For Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses now are the leading cause of death.
The statistics are devastating. Every one of those overdose victims represents a lost parent, child, or friend.
Opioid drugs are causing unprecedented destruction in our communities. On an average day, 90 Americans will die from an opioid-related overdose. About four people will overdose and die while we sit here this morning. They leave behind parents, spouses, children, and friends.
If you just look at a graph of drug overdose deaths, it is frightening. In 1968, there were 5,000 deaths. In 1990, there were 8,000. The rate was relatively constant as a proportion of the American population for more than 30 years. Then it increased more than 500 percent over the next 25 years.
Law enforcement officers and medical professionals are struggling to deal with opioids in every state. The crisis is not limited to any region of the country. Heroin and fentanyl-related deaths are still increasing across the United States - particularly in the Northeast and Midwest.
Let’s not waste precious time arguing about whether it is better to call it a public health crisis or a law enforcement issue.
The Department of Justice is approaching this crisis with all-hands-on deck. We need to use all the tools available to us: prevention, treatment and prosecution.
This is why I am pleased to be here today. I am proud of the work that the DEA is doing to combat the opioid crisis. I am particularly proud of today’s initiative to help protect the men and women who bravely and nobly serve as police officers, firefighters, and emergency technicians.
The spread of opioids brings a growing risk to our first responders.
Fentanyl is especially dangerous. Fentanyl is 30 to 50 times more deadly than heroin. Just 2 milligrams – the equivalent of a few grains of table salt – an amount that can fit on the tip of your finger – can be lethal.
Fentanyl exposure can injure or kill innocent law enforcement officers and other first responders. Inhaling just a few airborne particles could be fatal. Our police officers and first responders face this danger every day.
This is not a hypothetical problem. Law enforcement officers have already suffered exposures to fentanyl in New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut. You will hear from the experience of two of those officers in the video you are about to see.
Just a few weeks ago, a police officer in East Liverpool, Ohio nearly died from exposure to an extremely potent opioid, most likely a fentanyl-related compound. The officer had pulled over a car and noticed an unidentified white powder in the vehicle. The officer took precautions by putting on gloves and a mask for personal protection.
When the officer returned to the police station, another officer pointed out that he had powder on his shirt. Instinctively, he brushed off the powder while not wearing gloves. About an hour later, he collapsed. That officer had to be treated with four doses of naloxone. Luckily, he survived and is recovering.
Three weeks ago, a sheriff’s deputy in my home state of Maryland responded to an overdose scene. He was exposed to opioids and needed a dose of Narcan to reverse the effects.
The spread of fentanyl means that any encounter a law enforcement officer has with an unidentified white powder could be fatal.
As we continue to fight this epidemic, it is critical that we provide the tools necessary to educate law enforcement officers about the dangers of fentanyl and its deadly consequences. Our officers and first responders must approach these situations with the utmost caution. That is why I applaud the efforts of the DEA to alert everyone about the dangers of fentanyl through the video and guidance issued today.
The opioid epidemic is causing havoc and heartbreak for our children, friends, and neighbors. I hope these measures will help protect you and all of our first responders throughout our country.
Thank you for your important work in support of our efforts to reverse the recent surge of drug overdoses.
Now, I want to introduce the Acting DEA Administrator to discuss DEA’s new guidance.
Chuck, thank you for your service, and thank you for supporting the essential work of the DEA.