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Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katharine T. Sullivan Speaks at the Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Program National Forum


Arlington, VA
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Mariel Lifshitz.  Good morning, everyone.  I want to echo Mariel’s and Tim Jeffries’ welcome, and to thank you all for being here today.

It is wonderful to see so many criminal justice, healthcare, and other dedicated professionals from across the country, here to talk about one of the most important domestic policy issues of our day.  I want to commend each and every one of you for being on the front lines of the fight to end America’s addiction crisis.  This is a crisis that has claimed too many lives, torn apart too many families, and stolen too many futures.  Its impact on children has been particularly heartbreaking.  But thanks to all of you, we are beginning to see progress in this fight.  Overdose deaths are down for the first time in 28 years, which is truly a cause for optimism.  The work you are doing – the work we are all doing together – is making a difference.

It is much too early to celebrate, though.  Deaths from the most dangerous drugs, synthetic opioids like fentanyl, are still on the rise, and availability and use of cocaine and meth have gone up dramatically in recent years.  This is no longer an opioid emergency – it is a broader addiction crisis, and addressing the wider issue is exactly how this administration is tackling this problem.

Our friends on Capitol Hill have taken up this fight as well, for which we are very grateful.  This recognition of a broader epidemic is reflected in the very language we are using to describe our efforts at the federal level.  In fact, we are re-branding the Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Program, and will begin calling it the Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant, and Substance Abuse Program – or COSSAP, for short.  This, I think, better captures the scope of the challenge we are all facing.

Let me say that we are working to end this crisis.  That sounds ambitious, I realize, but we are served at the Department of Justice by an Attorney General who relishes big fights.  Last year, the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) awarded more than $333 million in grants to address drugs and addiction.  Most of those investments were made through COSSAP, which is the centerpiece of our response to this epidemic.

What I love about this program is its focus on partnerships, in particular between law enforcement and treatment providers.  This is both innovative and logical.  We know that police are very often first on the scene of an overdose, but they do not necessarily have the training or the resources to do a proper medical remediation.  The COSSAP approach is designed to make sure that prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts do not take a back seat to enforcement, and that we are not overburdening officers.

Since 2017, our Bureau of Justice Assistance has supported innovative work in almost 300 COSSAP sites.  The sites are doing a number of things:

  • You are building partnerships between first responders and behavioral health, public health, and victim service professionals;
  • You are expanding diversion programs for people who abuse illicit and prescription opioids;
  • You are encouraging cross-system planning and collaboration;
  • You are developing treatment and recovery strategies for those who come into contact with the health care and justice systems, and;
  • You are providing support services in rural and tribal communities through technology-assisted treatment and recovery options.

To give an example, one of our newest grants is going to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.  Their grant is helping five counties establish workflow protocols for real-time forensic drug chemistry analysis.  These new protocols will help connect cases and get critical information to jurisdictions quickly.  Law enforcement can plan their response based on local needs, and investigators will be able to use drug intelligence to monitor trends and intercept drug-trafficking routes.

This is exciting, and we are looking forward to the great results that this and so many other projects will bring.  In fact, I am proud that we are making another $156 million available this year to support more programs like these.  The solicitation is now open until May 21, 2020.

COSSAP is our biggest weapon in fighting the addiction crisis, but it is not the only one.  One key to addressing this crisis is preventing prescription drugs from falling into the wrong hands.  Nearly every state has an active prescription drug-monitoring program, and our Harold Rogers Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) is providing critical support.

These systems give prescribers and pharmacists information about a patient’s controlled substance prescription history, and they help clinicians distinguish between patients who legitimately need opioids for pain treatment and those who might be looking to misuse or divert these powerful drugs.  We are looking to expand use of these systems.  We are working with our partners at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other agencies to use open-source solutions to integrate PDMP information with healthcare IT systems.  We have awarded a number of grants that connect local, state, and national information systems so that jurisdictions can analyze a range of crucial data, across disciplines.

In addition to data sharing and cross-agency partnerships, we have to make sure that people with substance-use disorders who come into contact with the justice system get the help they need.  One of the most rewarding things I did in my 11 years as a state trial court judge was to oversee a drug court and a DUI court.  I know from running these dockets that they make an incredible difference.  Drug courts are effective.  They curb abuse, they reduce recidivism, and they save money – and I would love to see one in every community in America.  Last year, we awarded more than $83 million in juvenile and adult-drug court grants and veteran-treatment court grants, and our support will continue this year.

The administration also has a robust reentry strategy, which is another key to curbing addiction.  Tony Lowden is the new executive director of the Federal Interagency Council on Crime Prevention and Improving Reentry, and I know he will be looking closely at how we can expand the range of treatment options available for returning offenders.

I want to circle back to a point I raised earlier.  In terms of sheer numbers, opioids remain our biggest drug threat, but other drugs are moving in to fill the void.  We are no longer focused on a monolithic challenge – we are now dealing with a broader and more complex polysubstance addiction crisis.

We are seeing a disturbing rise in the use and abuse of methamphetamine, particularly in the western part of the country.  Meth and psychostimulant overdose deaths increased 25 percent annually between 2015 and 2018, and Mexican drug traffickers are increasing production and bringing with it more drug-related violence.  This is a particular challenge for our law enforcement officers, who are constantly having to adjust to every shape-shifting form this crisis takes.

I have the honor of serving as Vice Chair of the President’s Law Enforcement Commission, and we are examining the impact of this epidemic, particularly on ways to help police remain focused on public safety while ensuring that adequate community programming is in place to help those struggling with addiction.  In fact, our next full Commission meeting is centered on social problems like addiction and how they affect law enforcement.

As we move to meet this growing challenge, our resources have to fall in line.  Across the administration and at OJP, we have expanded our programs in an effort to counter the threats posed by these other drugs.  We are looking to you – the experts, the ones with your fingers on the pulse – to help us make sure we are hitting our target.

We are cautiously optimistic about the latest CDC numbers, but we know we cannot become complacent.  Dangerous drugs remain on our streets, and their potency only seems to grow.  But there are more than a thousand people in this room who will be heading back home Thursday to continue fighting for the health and safety of their communities.

As you return home, know this: The Trump administration and our Attorney General – and every one of us at the Department of Justice – will be here to support you in this fight.  Working together, I feel very good about our chances to come out with a win.

I thank you all for the great work you do, and I thank you all for your time today.


The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice.  Learn more about the history of our agency at

Updated March 10, 2020