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Press Release

U.S Attorney Bill Powell announces Operation Synthetic Opioid surge (S.O.S.) in Berkeley County

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of West Virginia

MARTINSBURG – United States Attorney Bill Powell is applauding Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the creation of Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge (S.O.S.), which, in the Northern District of West Virginia, will focus on a surge in prosecutions of those distributing fentanyl and other synthetic opioids in Berkeley County. Berkeley County saw the highest rate of overdose deaths in the district in 2017.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced S.O.S. this week, 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. 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. 

"We at the Department of Justice are going to dismantle these deadly fentanyl distribution networks. Simply put, we will be tireless until we reduce the number of overdose deaths in this country. We are going to focus on some of the worst counties for opioid overdose deaths in the United States, working all cases until we have disrupted the supply of these deadly drugs," 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. Operation S.O.S.—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."

“One overdose death is too many. Our district has had way too many overdose deaths.    I thank Attorney General Sessions for providing additional resources to combat the opioid overdose crisis.  The Eastern Panhandle of our district has been particularly hard hit by opioid deaths, and we will do everything we can to prosecute all those who don’t give a second thought to distributing incredibly potent drugs like fentanyl to our citizens.  We will have zero tolerance for those engaging in such conduct,” said Powell.  

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:
•    Eastern District of California
•    Eastern District of Kentucky
•    District of Maine
•    District of New Hampshire
•    Northern District of Ohio
•    Southern District of Ohio
•    Western District of Pennsylvania
•    Eastern District of Tennessee
•    Northern District of West Virginia
•    Southern District of West Virginia

Berkeley County saw 54 overdose deaths in 2017, a drop from 88 in 2016, according to the WV Health Statistics Center. 

Updated July 13, 2018