Sessions calls drug overdoses 'the top lethal issue' in the US, warns 'treatment cannot be our only policy'

Attorney General Jeff
Sessions on Tuesday called drug overdose deaths “the top lethal issue” in the US and urged law enforcement and social workers to “create and foster a culture that’s hostile to drug use.”

Sessions spoke to the annual conference of the National Alliance For Drug Endangered Children. He said preliminary data show nearly 60,000 overdose deaths in the US in 2016, the highest ever.

“Our current drug epidemic is indeed the deadliest in American history. We’ve seen nothing like it,” said Sessions.

He highlighted Department of Justice efforts to curb opioid abuse, including a pilot program announced Aug. 2 to send 12 federal prosecutors to cities ravaged by addiction to investigate health care fraud and opioid scams, as well as a new data analytics program to analyse statistical outliers among medical practitioners.

“They can tell us which physicians are writing opioid prescriptions at a rate that far exceeds their peers; how many of a doctor’s patients died within 60 days of an opioid prescription; the average age of the patients receiving these prescriptions; pharmacies that are dispensing disproportionately large amounts of opioids; and regional hot spots for opioid issues,” Sessions said.

At one point Sessions also accused Hollywood, the media and government officials for sending “mixed messages about the harmfulness of drugs.” He didn’t name any government officials.

“This is not acceptable,” Sessions said. “We must not capitulate, intellectually or morally, to drug use. We must create and foster a culture that’s hostile to drug use.”

While much of the national conversation around the opioid epidemic has focused on treatment and rehabilitation in an effort to reduce the impact of the so-called “War on Drugs” that prompted mass drug prosecutions and use of long, mandatory minimum sentences, Sessions cautioned that treatment alone won’t resolve the crisis.

He cited “prevention” and law enforcement as crucial steps toward decreasing drug availability, driving up prices, and diluting the purity of available drugs.

“Treatment cannot be our only policy. Treatment often comes too late. By the time many people receive treatment, they, their families, and communities have already suffered dramatically,” he said. “The individual struggle to overcome addiction can be a long process — and it can fail. And, sadly, it often does fail.”

In May, Sessions reversed an effort from the Obama-era Justice Department that called on federal prosecutors to rein in the use of mandatory minimum sentences for some drug criminals to focus resources elsewhere. Sessions is now directing prosecutors to pursue the toughest punishments against most suspects.

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