You are here

Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Maine

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, July 12, 2018

ATTORNEY GENERAL SESSIONS ANNOUNCES OPERATION SYNTHETIC OPIOID SURGE

Portland, Maine:  Attorney General Jeff Sessions and United States Attorney Halsey B. Frank 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 District of Maine. In Maine, in 2016, there were 376 drug-induced deaths; in 2017, there were 418 drug-induced deaths.   In Cumberland County, a county with a population of about 280,000, in 2016, there were 78 drug-induced overdose deaths, including 68 opioid-related deaths; in 2017, there were 109 drug-induced overdose deaths, including 94 opioid-related deaths.

Each participating United States 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 United States 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."

“As is much of the rest of the country, Maine is in the midst of a crisis in which people are dying from opioid overdoses at an alarming rate in large part due to the increasing availability and potency of synthetic opioids like fentanyl,” U.S. Attorney Frank said. “In addition, Maine is seeing more of the violence that too often attends drug use and property crimes, such as shoplifting, committed to fund drug habits.  Addressing this crisis requires all segments of society to engage, and my office will continue to work with representatives of the prevention, treatment, and recovery communities.  As the chief federal law enforcement officer in Maine, however, my primary responsibility is to enforce the law.  I am grateful that the Department is giving us additional resources to do so in the area of synthetic drug enforcement.  I am hopeful that we will be able to use those resources to reduce the supply of opioids that are coming from communities outside of Maine, killing Mainers, and causing untold collateral consequences.  We are starting the effort in Cumberland County because it has the highest absolute number of overdose deaths of any county in Maine.”

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 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

In Manatee County, a county just south of Tampa with a population of about 320,000, overdoses and deaths skyrocketed in 2015 (780 overdoses/84 opioid related deaths) and 2016 (1,287 overdoses/123 opioid related deaths). In summer of 2016, local law enforcement reported frequent, street-level distribution of fentanyl and carfentanil for the first time.

To combat this crisis, the Middle District of Florida committed to prosecuting every readily provable drug distribution case involving synthetic opioids in Manatee County regardless of drug quantity. The effort resulted in the indictments of forty five traffickers of synthetic opioids. Further, from the last six months of 2016 to the last six months of 2017, overdoses dropped by 77.1% and deaths dropped by 74.2%. Overall, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office went from responding to 11 overdoses a day to an average now of less than one per day. 

Topic(s): 
Opioids
Office and Personnel Updates
Component(s): 
Contact: 
Donald E. Clark Assistant United States Attorney Tel: (207) 780-3257
Updated July 12, 2018