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While Sessions launches new opioid task force, local response lags behind

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On August 2, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a Trump Administration initiative to address the nation’s skyrocketing opioid epidemic; which deploys United States Attorneys to regions where the epidemic is at its worst who specialize in prosecuting the doctors and pharmacists who are attributed to contributing to the creation of new addicts.

In a speech at the Columbus, Ohio Police Academy, Sessions called the epidemic “the worst drug crisis” in history, and vowed to use “every tool we have” to reverse the trend.

Continuing, Sessions said “We cannot capitulate intellectually or morally unto this kind of rampant drug abuse. We must create a culture that’s hostile to drug abuse.”

{mosads}Sessions’ speech served to announce a new Trump Administration pilot program, where a new federal data analysis program will be created to track prescriptions and pharmacies to identify any prescribers and pharmacies that may be dispensing a disproportionate number of opioids, in an attempt to limit addiction and drug trafficking before it hits the street-level heroin trade.


To assure that the data from the new tracking system results in effective prosecutions, Sessions is sending 12 federal prosecutors to the districts where the epidemic is most devastating; which include regions in Pennsylvania and Ohio, areas where as many as eight people die of overdoses each day.

In announcing this new strategy, Sessions addressed the medical community in saying “If you are a doctor illegally prescribing opioids for profit or a pharmacist letting these pills walk out the door… we are coming after you.”

The strategy, named Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, will station the aforementioned twelve prosecutors in Florida, Michigan, Alabama, Tennessee, Nevada, Kentucky, Maryland, Pennsylvania, California, North Carolina and West Virginia.

These US attorneys will coordinate investigations and task forces with the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Health and Human Services Inspector General to identify and arrest opioid violators. “These prosecutors will help us target and prosecute these doctors, pharmacies and medical providers who are furthering this epidemic to line their pockets.” Sessions said.

While this initiative is truly a step in the right direction, the US government can no way work alone to address this deadly epidemic that has claimed upwards of 60,000 last year.

While state governors like Charlie Baker (R-MA) and Chris Christie (R-NJ) have initiated innovative new policies to confront the opioid epidemic in their respective states; cities are still struggling to even begin to address the problem.

Locally, there is an absence of both strategy and political will; which is creating an unlivable environment for the residents of the cities where the epidemic has hit the hardest.

For example, Philadelphia officials have begun working with Conrail to clear out an over half-mile, disease-infested stretch of rail bed that has served as a notorious open-air heroin market.

However, the prospects of dealing with the cleanup of this area and the larger issue of addressing the fact that Philadelphia is one of the largest heroin-trafficking areas is presenting complexities that seem to exceed the capabilities of municipal government.

Local elected leaders have been widely characterizing the epidemic from the view of a public health crisis, which is beneficial when seeking options for those addicted to opioids; but offers little in the form of solutions to those who reside in the communities affected by the crisis.

While local political leaders often speak of diversion from prosecution and treatment as alternatives to traditional law enforcement strategies in combating drug crimes; little is being said about how these alternatives can be brought to fruition.

The concept of diverting those arrested for possession offenses to a treatment alternative is widely accepted by Mayors and District Attorney candidates on both sides of the aisle.

There are major obstacles to the success of such a concept; which include a shocking lack of bed space in rehabs, a shortage of law enforcement and [most notably] the willingness of the addict to get treatment.

One cannot sentence a drug offender to treatment and expect that to be effective if there are not sufficient and secure treatment facilities to accommodate the upwards of 150,000 opioid addicts estimated to be on the streets of Philadelphia each day.

Furthermore, experts from twelve-step programs all agree that addicts have to “hit bottom” and thus want to recover from their addiction in order for treatment to be successful; making court-ordered (forced) treatment difficult to succeed.

Over a month after the rail bed gained international news, the cleanup has begun.

However, the communities around the rail bed are bracing themselves for an influx of the addicts who once patronized the rail bed. In the meantime, law enforcement in many of those communities are spread thin.

The result, numerous working class neighborhoods in Philadelphia (and across America) who have hundreds of heroin addicts roaming their streets, committing crimes to feed their addiction; without the proactive law enforcement on patrol to address the issue when they are still quality of life offenses.

So, while those of us residing in the areas hard hit by the opioid crisis applaud the launch Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit; while at the same time wondering when our local officials are going to empower and effectively deploy law enforcement to go after those who profit off addiction by selling drugs, as well as the hordes of addicts who; among other things, roam the streets with stolen shopping carts crammed with stolen scrap and others’ personal belongings.

A Benjamin Mannes is a regular public safety contributor to The Hill, executive board governor for InfraGard and host of “The 3rd Side of the Story” show on iTunes & Wildfire Radio.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Crime Criminal justice Jeff Sessions Opioid abuse Opioid epidemic

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