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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Pennsylvania

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, July 12, 2018

ATTORNEY GENERAL SESSIONS ANNOUNCES OPERATION SYNTHETIC OPIOID SURGE

Western Pennsylvania will receive a full-time federal prosecutor to focus on further reducing the supply of synthetic opioids in Washington County

 

PITTSBURGH – Attorney General Jeff Sessions and U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady of the Western District of Pennsylvania 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 Western District of Pennsylvania. 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 opioid-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

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 ensure that leads from street-level cases are used to identify larger-scale distributors.

"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."

"The opioid epidemic is the single greatest drug crisis of our lifetimes. Opioid-related overdoses have increased to unprecedented levels, with fentanyl and its analogues more available and lethal than ever," stated U.S. Attorney Brady. "In response, we have attacked this epidemic with urgency. In partnership with Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone, our appointment of a Washington County Assistant District Attorney to serve as a Special Assistant United States Attorney has resulted in dozens of successful prosecutions and a reduction in the number of overdose deaths. Through Operation S.O.S., the addition of a full-time federal prosecutor to focus on this ‘hot spot’ county within our district will allow us to continue this vital work."

Located to the southwest of Pittsburgh, Washington County has an estimated population on 208,261 people and encompasses an area of 861 square miles. In 2017 there were 98 fatal drug overdoses, 71 of which contained fentanyl. This compared to: 109 overdoses in 2016 (68 containing fentanyl), 73 overdoses in 2015 (38 containing fentanyl), and 36 overdoses in 2014 (five containing fentanyl).

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. 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 45 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
Updated July 12, 2018