Attorney General Jeff Sessions tackled the issue of addiction at an opioid summit in West Virginia Thursday, arguing prevention and tough law enforcement are key to stemming rising overdose death rates.
“This epidemic of opioid abuse is a crisis,” Sessions said in his remarks. “It’s ravaging our communities, bringing crime an violence to our streets and destroying the lives of so many Americans.”
Sessions spoke at the the DEA360 Heroin and Opioid Response Summit in Charleston, W.Va, describing the horrors of the addiction crisis and what his department and the Trump administration are doing to address it. The Department of Justice will take a three-prong strategy to the crisis, employing greater prevention efforts, funding effective treatment centers and increasing law enforcement.
Prevention is ultimately the key to curbing addiction according to Sessions, but he says those serious about fixing the problem should not diminish the crucial role law enforcement plays in fighting drug trafficking and illegal immigration tied to gangs and cartels.
“Criminal enforcement is crucial,” Sessions said. “We can’t arrest our way out of the problem, but it is a big part of it. I think overtime, prevention will help us be most effective. The best thing we can do is keep people from abusing drugs in the first place.”
He argued prevention programs in schools should be revamped and updated to better educate the younger generations on the dangers of opioids and restated his opposition to further liberalization of drug laws, saying, “there’s too much talk about recreational drugs” currently in the U.S.
Sessions noted the administration is already making progress against drug trafficking, allowing the DEA to step up interdiction efforts and enforcement on the border and on the seas. (RELATED: Coast Guard Seizes Half A Billion Dollars Worth Of Cocaine Smuggled In Pacific)
“The opioid and heroin epidemic is a contributor to the recent surge of violent crime in America,” said Sessions. “We are not going to allow gangs and international cartels to dominate our streets. We’re going to secure our borders.”
A record 33,000 Americans died from opioid related overdoses in 2015, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, contributing to the first drop in U.S. life expectancy since 1993 and eclipsing deaths from motor vehicle accidents.
President Donald Trump appointed a bipartisan group of lawmakers to the White House commission addressing the opioid crisis Wednesday, with GOP Gov. Chris Christie at the helm, as part of the administration’s efforts to stem opioid overdoses. Trump signed an executive order creating the commission on March 29, requiring interim recommendations for addressing opioid addiction within 90 days.
The commission will review existing programs tackling drug abuse and treatment and will make final recommendations to Trump by Oct. 1.
The Trump administration has so far been light on specifics on how to address the opioid crisis. The White House sparked outrage May 5 when news surfaced Trump planned to cut the budget for the Office of National Drug Control Policy by 95 percent in his forthcoming budget proposal. The proposal, expected to be released in full at the end of May, allegedly calls for funding to the office to be slashed from $388 million to $24 million.
Bipartisan critics say the cuts appear to contradict pledges from Trump to curb drug abuse.
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