Feds Get Tougher on Illicit Opioids

Alicia Ault

November 29, 2017

The US Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are taking new steps to keep prescription and illicit opioids off the streets and more effectively prosecute those involved in the illegal distribution of these agents.

United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the steps at a media briefing on November 29.

"For Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death," said Sessions. He noted that overdoses were being driven primarily by opioids, including prescription pain medications, heroin, and fentanyl.

To combat the crisis, Sessions said the DEA would establish a new field division in Louisville, Kentucky, which will have 90 special agents and 130 task force officers, to take on illegal activity in West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

The new division allows the DEA to more closely align itself with local partners, said Acting DEA Administrator Robert W. Patterson.

In addition, it "will produce more effective investigations on heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioid trafficking, all of which have a significant impact on the region," Patterson said.

The Justice Department is also awarding $12 million in grants to local law enforcement agencies. Of that, $7 million will be distributed through the Anti-Heroin Task Force Program to state police and criminal investigation divisions in Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont.

Five million dollars will be distributed by the Community Oriented Policing Services Anti-Methamphetamine Program to agencies in California, Iowa, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Sessions said that he was also ordering all US attorney offices to designate an opioid coordinator ― which he called a "quarterback" for the antiopioid efforts ― by December 15.

The coordinator will be in charge of facilitating prosecutions of cases involving prescription and illicit opioids, will maintain statistics on the opioid prosecutions in that district, and will continually evaluate the effectiveness of that office's strategy to combat the opioid epidemic, said Sessions in a memo to the US attorneys.

The coordinator will also convene a task force of state, federal, and local law enforcement to determine which cases should receive federal prosecution.

"I know that this crisis is daunting ― the death rates are stunning ― and it can be discouraging," said Sessions. "But we will turn the tide. When the men and women of law enforcement work effectively in a focused way, we can stop the growth of destructive addiction, keep the American people safe, and save lives," he said.

The new announcement from the Justice Department follows actions taken earlier this year, including the creation of a new Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, which will focus on opioid-related healthcare fraud.

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