Justice News

Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio Delivers Remarks at the Department of Justice Opioid Summit
Washington, DC
United States
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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Thank you, Mary, for that introduction and for your tireless efforts in helping to address the opioid crisis.  It continues to be a privilege to work with you on this urgent priority. Many thanks, also, to the panelists we just heard from, who are providing resources and care for those who suffer from the consequences of this terrible addiction. 

We now turn from that topic to the issue of how we stem the tide—of how we drive down the illicit production, distribution, and use of opioids.   As you’ve already heard this morning from Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, one of the Justice Department’s top priorities is driving down the death toll from opioids.  More than 200,000 people have perished in the last two decades because of opioid overdoses.  Almost a quarter of those deaths—42,000—occurred in 2016 alone.  To put that in perspective, opioid deaths in 2016 outranked automobile fatalities, (37,400), gun fatalities (38,000), and alcohol-induced fatalities (35,000).  One hundred and fifteen people per day are dying from opioids—that’s this entire audience. It’s staggering to think about.

This ghastly death toll is the result of our country having been illegally flooded with prescription opioids, synthetic opioids, and heroin.  There are people, companies, and criminal gangs or enterprises responsible for this fatal glut.  It is our duty and our intention to hold them responsible.  That applies to the entire supply chain: manufacturers, distributors, doctors, pharmacies, organized crime, and street dealers.  Those who have spent years violating this nation’s drug laws to profit off of addiction and death are going to be held accountable.

The Department will bring to this fight all of its tools and resources.  Criminal prosecutions will continue to be a large part of our effort.  We will indict and aggressively prosecute those who manufacture, import, and sell heroin and synthetic opioids; and we will likewise prosecute doctors and pharmacists who misuse their controlled substance registrations in the distribution of prescription opioids.

We will also use the full arsenal of the Department’s civil enforcement authorities.  For example, the False Claims Act provides the Department with a powerful tool to pursue all of those in the opioid distribution chain that are responsible improper marketing, distribution, prescription, and diversion.  Much of our work in this area is not public yet, but I can assure you a reckoning is coming for those who have defrauded the government in the course of profiting from opioids.

Another important example of civil enforcement is an ongoing, cooperative effort by the Consumer Protection Branch and several U.S. Attorney offices to invoke the injunctive relief provisions of the Controlled Substances Act to halt illegal prescribing by doctors and pharmacists.  The Northern District of Ohio announced the first of these cases this summer.  The Consumer Protection Branch is also exploring the use of the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act in these cases. Doctors and pharmacists need to be on the front lines of stemming this crises; they need to prescribe responsibly and lawfully. And if they don’t, we have the tools to hold them accountable. 

One set of commentators described these actions as the Department getting “creative and aggressive”—that the Department “has rediscovered a potentially powerful tool, and has now shown that it is willing to use it.”  That is absolutely correct, and the commentator was right to warn anyone “at all connected to the opioid business” to take heed.  Cases like these will give our attorneys the tools to stop bad actors, before or during prosecution, or even when the evidence falls short of what is necessary to bring a criminal case. 

These new tools supplement others that have traditionally been the mainstay of civil enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act.  We will continue to bring actions for civil monetary penalties of up to $62,500 for each errant prescription, and up to $14,500 for each recordkeeping violation involving controlled substances.  These penalties can, and often do, result in civil complaints seeking millions of dollars in penalties.  They provide a powerful incentive for controlled substance registrants to follow federal regulations. 

At the same time, the DEA will continue to bring administrative actions to revoke the controlled substance registrations of doctors and pharmacists who flout the rules.  And DEA diversion investigators and tactical diversion squads will continue conduct inspections and investigations that provide the evidence for all these enforcement tools.  In sum, the Department of Justice is employing every resource to combat the opioid crisis. We want the message to be clear: those causing this crisis will be brought to justice.

Our panel today is uniquely qualified to discuss the Department’s enforcement efforts.  Each has a long list of career accomplishments and law enforcement bona fides, but I will keep the introductions short so we can get to the discussion.  We are joined by:

Brian Benczkowski, the Assistant Attorney General for the Department’s Criminal Division, will discuss Main Justice’s criminal enforcement efforts.

Justin Herdman, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, will discuss some of the criminal cases his office has brought, as well as the pioneering civil work I mentioned earlier.  

Uttam Dhillon, the Acting Administrator of the DEA, will discuss the important work that the DEA has done identifying doctors and pharmacists who break the law, the DEA’s investigative resources, and the administrative process DEA has to revoke controlled substance registrations.

David Bowdich, Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, will discuss the Bureau’s cooperation with the DEA and local law enforcement to gather the evidence we use to combat the opioid crisis.

Thanks to each of you for being here, and for the work you are doing.

Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio Delivers Remarks at the Department of Justice Opioid Summit

Updated October 25, 2018