Skip to main content
Press Release

Attorney General Sessions Announces Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.–  Attorney General Jeff Sessions and U.S. Attorney J. Douglas Overbey today announced Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge (S.O.S.), a new program that seeks to reduce the supply of deadly synthetic opioids in high impact areas and to identify wholesale distribution networks and international and domestic suppliers.

As part of Operation S.O.S., the Department will launch an enforcement surge in ten districts with some of the highest drug overdose death rates, including the Eastern District of Tennessee.

Each participating U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) will choose a specific county and prosecute every readily provable case involving the distribution of fentanyl, fentanyl analogues, and other synthetic opioids, regardless of drug quantity. The surge will involve a coordinated DEA Special Operations Division operation to insure that leads from street-level cases are used to identify larger scale distributors. Operation S.O.S. was inspired by a promising initiative of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Middle District of Florida involving Manatee County, Florida.

"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."

“According to statistics from the Knox County Drug Related Task Force, already in 2018 there have been 164 overdose deaths in Knox County alone.  This alarming number is from only one of the 41 counties that make up the Eastern District of Tennessee.  Sadly, statistics show that Tennessee, and in particular east Tennessee, has one of the highest overdose death rates in the country.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office welcomes the opportunity to participate in Operation S.O.S. and will work with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners to prosecute every readily provable case involving the distribution of synthetic opioids in Knox County, regardless of drug quantity,” stated U.S. Attorney J. Douglas Overbey.

In addition, the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) Executive Office will provide funding for an additional two-year term Assistant U.S. Attorney to each participating district to assist with drug-related prosecutions.

The ten participating districts 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
  • Eastern District of California
  • Western District of Pennsylvania
  • District of New Hampshire

# # #


Sharry Dedman-Beard
Public Information Officer

Updated July 12, 2018