Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge Announced by the Department of Justice
Eastern District of California to be Part of the Pilot Project to Combat Overdose Deaths Due to Fentanyl and Other Synthetic Opioids
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Attorney General Jeff Sessions, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott of the Eastern District of California and DEA Special Agent in Charge Chris Nielsen announced this week Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge (S.O.S.), a new program that seeks to reduce the supply of deadly synthetic opioids in high impact areas, specifically fentanyl, and to identify wholesale distribution networks and international and domestic suppliers.
“When it comes to synthetic opioids, there is no such thing as a small case,” Attorney General Sessions said. “In 2016, synthetic opioids killed more Americans than any other kind of drug. Three milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal — that’s not even enough to cover up Lincoln’s face on a penny. Our prosecutors in Manatee County, Florida have shown that prosecuting seemingly small synthetic opioids cases can have a big impact and save lives, and we want to replicate their success in the districts that need it most. This new strategy — and the new prosecutors who will help carry it out — will help us put more traffickers behind bars and keep the American people safe from the threat of these deadly drugs.”
As part of Operation S.O.S., the Department will launch an enforcement surge in 10 districts that have experienced high drug overdose death rates, including the Eastern District of California. The DEA Special Operations Division will coordinate efforts to ensure that leads from street-level cases are used to identify larger-scale distributors. In addition, the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) Executive Office will send an additional two-year term Assistant United States Attorney to each participating district to assist with drug-related prosecutions.
“The deadliness of synthetic opioids cannot be emphasized enough,” U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott said. “These drugs kill and have the power to ruin the lives of those in their grip. The Eastern District of California is a transshipment corridor for all kinds of drugs, including fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, and many of our communities, especially in the district’s northern counties, have experienced their devastating effects. We plan to employ these new resources to help protect our communities from these lethal drugs.”
“Too many Americans are caught in the terrible grip of opioid addiction, and fentanyl can kill,” stated DEA Special Agent in Charge Chris Nielsen. “We have seen an increase in the availability of synthetic opioids in this region — along with the destructive consequences that follow. DEA is committed to using every tool available to pursue those distributing this poison in our communities, and we welcome this announcement by the Attorney General.”
The Eastern District of California will use the additional resources to coordinate with district attorney offices to prosecute every readily provable case involving the distribution of fentanyl, fentanyl analogues, and other synthetic opioids. The office will also redouble efforts to disrupt the distribution of these drugs by targeting the transshipment corridors that bisect the district: Interstate Highways 5 and 80. Through these efforts, law enforcement can stop further distribution of the drugs to the Midwest and East Coast, while also working to identify and prosecute large-scale suppliers. Already this year, 13.9 kilos (over 30 pounds) of fentanyl have been seized in the Eastern District of California.
According to the California Department of Public Health, Modoc County had an opioid overdose death rate of 23.78 out of 100,000 residents in 2017, which is about five times the overall rate for California, which is 4.49 opioid deaths per 100,000 residents. Yuba and Shasta County’s opioid overdose death rate is almost three times the state’s rate.
The other nine districts participating in Operation S.O.S. are:
Northern District of Ohio
Southern District of Ohio
Eastern District of Tennessee
Eastern District of Kentucky
Southern District of West Virginia
Northern District of West Virginia
District of Maine
Western District of Pennsylvania
District of New Hampshire