Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday ordered federal prosecutors in 10 areas that have been especially hard-hit by overdose deaths from fentanyl to bring drug charges against anyone suspected of dealing the synthetic opioid, regardless of quantity.
An additional prosecutor will also be sent to each of the designated areas in Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maine, California and Pennsylvania as well as in New Hampshire, Sessions said.
“Fentanyl is a killer drug,” Sessions said in an interview Thursday morning as he flew to New Hampshire to meet with state and local law enforcement officials about the fentanyl crisis. “Fentanyl is so powerful that the slightest error in how much you take can go from this extremely pleasurable feeling to death.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 42,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses in 2016, driven by a dramatic surge in deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.
West Virginia had the highest number of drug overdoses, with 52 deaths per 100,000 residents, while New Hampshire and Ohio were the next-highest-ranking states, with 39 deaths per 100,000 residents.
“Having a prosecutor solely dedicated to working these fentanyl cases is going to be a huge, enormous benefit to us here,” said Brian Boyle, special agent in charge of the New England Field Division, who described the fentanyl problem as “scary.”
“The amount of fentanyl we’re seeing is affecting everybody, all walks of life, all communities,” Boyle said. “You’re seeing it in rural areas, urban areas, big cities, middle-of-nowhere areas in New England.”
Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, is often mixed into heroin or cocaine. It is 50 times more powerful than heroin, 100 times more powerful than morphine and can kill a user almost instantly.
The Drug Enforcement Administration says that much of the fentanyl in New England is manufactured in Mexico using materials from China and then smuggled across the border.
Sessions’s fentanyl crackdown is the latest step he is taking to combat its use. The department has tripled fentanyl prosecutions across the country and brought the first cases charging Chinese nationals with selling large quantities of the drug to Americans. Sessions has also proposed a change to national drug policy by limiting the amount of opioids that companies can manufacture each year. He has created a team of federal agents and analysts to try to disrupt illicit opioid sales online, and started an opioid fraud and abuse detection unit to target opioid-related health-care fraud.
“We are facing the deadliest drug crisis in American history,” Sessions said. “We’ve never seen anything like it. . . . For Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death.”
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Sari Horwitz