Donald Trump

AG Sessions rolls out plan to “turn the tide” on opioid crisis

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is launching three initiatives designed to “turn the tide” on the opioid crisis gripping Florida and the nation.

Sessions is steering $12 million in grants to state and local law enforcement agencies “to take heroin methamphetamines, cocaine, and other illicit drugs off our streets,” according to a press release issued by the DOJ today. The release did not include details about the grants.

Sessions also announced “a restructuring at the DEA, with the establishment of the first new Field Division in nearly 20 years.” The field division, will cover West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Sessions is also ordering all of the country’s U.S. Attorney offices to designate an “opioid coordinator” to “serve as a kind of quarterback” regarding anti-opioid efforts locally..

Here’s the full text of Sessions’ announcement:

Good morning, and thank you all for being here. I’d like to especially thank DEA Administrator Patterson for being here and for his leadership on this issue. DEA plays a vital role in our efforts here as you all know.

Today, we are facing the deadliest drug crisis in American history.  Based on preliminary data, at least 64,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses last year.  That would be the highest drug overdose death toll and the fastest increase in that death toll in American history.  For Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death.

This crisis is driven primarily by opioids – prescription pain medications, heroin, and synthetic drugs like fentanyl.

Fortunately, President Trump understands this and has a passion for this issue.  He has taken the rare step of declaring a public health emergency, and requested more than $1 billion in anti-opioid efforts in the President’s FY 2018 budget.

And I want to thank Kellyanne Conway for being here today. The President has made this a top priority for his administration—including every senior official and cabinet member—as her presence here today can attest.

The day I was sworn in as Attorney General, the President sent me an executive order to go after transnational criminal organizations—including the cartels who exploit the vulnerable and profit off of addiction.

I am convinced that our law enforcement efforts save lives—because they prevent new addictions from starting.  By enforcing our laws, we help keep illegal drugs out of our country, reduce their availability, drive up their price, and reduce their purity.

The Department of Justice has taken a number of steps this year to make these efforts more effective.

In this year’s two drug take-back days, we took more than 900 tons of unused prescription drugs off of our streets—before they could fall into the wrong hands.

In July, the Department announced the largest health care fraud takedown in American history.  The Department coordinated the efforts of more than 1,000 state and federal law enforcement agents to arrest and charge more than more than 120 defendants for opioid-related crimes.

In August I announced a new data analytics program called the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, which will help us find the tell-tale signs of opioid-related health care fraud.

I have also assigned experienced prosecutors in 12 opioid “hot-spots” across America to focus solely on prosecuting opioid-related health care fraud.  Armed with better data, these prosecutors have already begun to issue indictments.

Additionally, the Department has indicted two Chinese nationals for separate schemes to distribute massive quantities of fentanyl—the number one killer drug in America. The truth is clear. Most fentanyl enters the United States from China. I have raised it with a recent Chinese delegation, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein has raised it, and President Trump was emphatic on the subject during his recent trip to China. We need more support.

Earlier this month, the DEA announced its intent to issue emergency restrictions on all forms of fentanyl—which will make it harder for criminals to circumvent our laws.

As deadly as fentanyl is, you can go online and order it through the mail.  That’s why in July, the Department announced the seizure of the largest dark net marketplace in history.  This site hosted some 220,000 drug listings and was responsible for countless synthetic opioid overdoses, including the tragic death of a 13 year old in Utah.

These steps are important, and I believe that they have saved lives already.  But still, we need to do more.  And we will.

Today I am announcing three new initiatives to turn the tide.

First, the Department will continue to back the blue.  I am announcing more than $12 million in grants to state and local law enforcement agencies across America to take heroin methamphetamines, cocaine, and other illicit drugs off our streets.

Second, I am announcing a restructuring at the DEA, with the establishment of the first new Field Division in nearly 20 years.

The current Louisville district office will now be the 22nd DEA Field Division, with about 90 special agents and 130 task force officers.  This field division will cover West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. These areas covered by this new division face similar drug threats, enabling this division to better focus on those threats.

They will be led by Special Agent in Charge Christopher Evans, who has served DEA for more than 25 years.

Third and finally, I am ordering all of our U.S. Attorney offices to designate an opioid coordinator to serve as a kind of quarterback of our anti-opioid efforts in their community.

They will convene a task force of state, federal, and local law enforcement and help determine which cases to take federal.  And they will help customize and evaluate the effectiveness of every U.S. Attorney’s Office’s strategy to combat the opioid epidemic, a strategy based on local conditions on the ground.

I believe that these changes will make law enforcement more effective—and make the American people safer.

But our work is not finished.  We will not slow down for one day or even for one instant.  With one American dying of a drug overdose every nine minutes, enforcing our drug laws is more important than ever.

We will not cede one city, one neighborhood, or one street corner to gangs, violence, or drugs.

We need to use every lawful tool we have—and we will.  This Department will continue to take whatever steps we deem appropriate and effective toward our goal of turning the tide.

I know that this crisis is daunting- the death rates are stunning- and it can be discouraging.  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.  Thank you. Now I’ll turn it over to Rob to discuss DEA recent efforts in more detail.

New report puts $500 billion price tag on opioid crisis

Nearly all of the focus on the opioid crisis gripping the nation has been on the human toll, with 14 Floridians a day dying from drug-related causes and twice that number experiencing non-fatal overdoses.

But the opioid epidemic has a whopping fiscal cost as well, according to a new report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers released this morning.

The report found that previous estimates of the economic costs associated with opioids “greatly understate” the true amount because they don’t include the economic impact of fatalities.

The report found that the economic impact of the opioid crisis was more than $500 billion in 2015, a six-fold increase over previous estimates.

Over 50,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2015, and 63 percent of those deaths involved opioids, according to the report.

“The problem is worsening at an alarming pace, with opioid-involved deaths doubling in the past ten years and quadrupling in the past sixteen,” the council wrote.

The new figure quantifies the costs of opioid-related deaths by relying on the “value of a statistical life,” figures usually used when evaluating “fatality-risk reduction” benefits of policies or proposals.

The numbers in the report, however, are certain to be questioned. The use of VSL is controversial. And the council adjusted the numbers of deaths in its total to reflect the under-reporting of opioid-related deaths by 14 percent, based on a 2014 study.

The authors of the report offered an explanation for why their estimates were so much higher than prior analyses.

The council relied on VSL and included heroin-related deaths as well as prescription drug deaths. The White House report also used the upward adjustment for under-reported deaths. And the opioid problem has worsened, the authors noted.

The report was aimed at giving policymakers the “economic analysis needed to review and assess” potential solutions to the opioid epidemic, the council wrote.

“A better understanding of the economic causes contributing to the crisis is crucial for evaluating the success of various interventions to combat it,” the report reads.

And the CEA concluded by pointing the finger at drug companies for contributing to the use of street drugs by hiking prices.

“Supply-side interventions that raise the economic costs of supplying legal prescriptions of opioids may have unintended consequences depending on the extent of demand side substitution induced towards illicit opioids,”  the report concluded.

 

Nation’s deputy AG blames opioid crisis on docs and big pharma

Gov. Rick Scott’s boasted about the $53 million in his budget proposal targeted toward the state’s opioid epidemic.

But more than half of that money — $27 million — is from a federal grant.

It’s the second year of the “State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis” grant in Florida, which the feds recently approved, according to a state Department of Children and Families deputy secretary who spoke at a House committee meeting last week.

Like Scott, his pal President Donald Trump and his administration have targeted the opioid crisis as public health crisis.

Here’s an excerpt from a speech U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made at the 50 State Summit on Public Safety in Washington, D.C., this morning. (Maybe his boss, AG Jeff Sessions, was tied up nearby testifying before a House panel).

We are also facing the challenges resulting from the unprecedented opioid crisis.  The news is full of heartbreaking stories of parents burying their teenage children, of Neonatal Intensive Care Units overflowing with opioid-addicted babies, of EMS workers racing from one drug overdose to another, and of medical examiners running short of resources to handle the somber extra business.

The overdose numbers are astounding.  In 1990, there were 8,000 deaths. The rate was relatively constant as a proportion of the American population for decades.  Then it increased approximately 700 percent over the next 26 years.

In 2016, more than 64,000 Americans died of drug overdoses.  On average, that means during this speech – another American will have died from a drug overdose.  This is unacceptable.

Opioids are driving this increase in overdose deaths.  The opioid problem began several years ago when doctors — aided by pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies — began overprescribing and diverting powerful prescription opioids.

In some instances, the doctors were untrained and unaware of the addictive nature of the drugs they were prescribing.  In other instances, the doctors were little more than drug dealers with advanced degrees. They operated “pill mills” where medical care was nonexistent, cash was king, and prescription opioids flowed freely.

Our newest challenge is fentanyl, a synthetic drug produced primarily in China. It is up to 50 times more potent than heroin.  It is so powerful that a quantity equal to a few grains of table salt can kill a person.

Chinese chemists try to stay a step ahead of law enforcement by making chemical analogues of fentanyl, such as carfentanil. It is 100 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 times more potent than morphine. In fact, carfentanil is intended as an elephant tranquilizer. It is manufactured in Chinese laboratories, shipped to the United States or Mexico, mixed with heroin, and then sold to addicts who are often unaware of what they are ingesting. Just last week, the DEA announced its intent to emergency schedule these fentanyl analogues.  This is a major step in cracking down on these deadly drugs.

The President recently declared that the opioid crisis a “public health emergency.”  The declaration will redirect federal resources to help fund treatment efforts.

At the Department of Justice, we use every tool at our disposal to stop the rise in violence and to end the drug crisis.

The Reverend Al comes to MIA to pray on Frederica Wilson

1200px-Frederica_Wilson_official_House_portraitFaith leaders, including Al Sharpton, will gather “to cover” Congresswoman Frederica Wilson in prayer on Saturday at The Historic Saint Agnes Episcopal Church of Miami.

The prayer service is “an effort towards healing and unifying our community during these times of pain and conflict,” according to a press release distributed by Wilson’s congressional office Tuesday.

“Amidst the recent barrage of media reports is a grieving family and community,” Wilson said in the release. “We will come together with local faith leaders to receive special prayers of encouragement and restoration as our community begins to heal.”

Wilson has sparred with President Donald Trump over details of a telephone call that the president made to offer condolences to the widow of U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson.

Amid the sparring, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly claimed last week that Wilson boasted in 2015 about raising money for the FBI’s Miami field office during the building’s dedication ceremony. In a video of the ceremony — posted by the Sun Sentinel — Wilson discussed how she pushed for legislation to name the building after two fallen agents. No mention was made of Wilson securing the building’s funding.

Kelly called Wilson “an empty barrel,” an insult she claimed was racist. In tweets, Trump’s called Wilson “wacky,” and his press secretary Sarah Sanders called her “all hat with no cattle.”

Sharpton will be the keynote speaker at Saturday’s event, which will also feature a prayer circle including members of the African American Council of Christian Clergy “who will pray for representatives from each branch of the military,” according to the release.

 

 

Dems bash rebranded Baker in St. Pete

It may have worked it Miami, so why not St. Pete?

Florida Dems and incumbent St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s campaign have tethered Rick Baker, a Republican who’s seeking a comeback as mayor, to President Donald Trump, who’s not exactly a rock star in the left-leaning Pinellas County seat.

Dems used the same strategy in a Miami special election in August, successfully pairing Trump with former state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz. The Miami Republican and his allies vastly outspent Democratic opponent Annette Taddeo in the race for the open Senate seat, but Taddeo coasted to victory.

In advance of the advent of early voting tomorrow, Florida Democrats released a new ad bashing Baker, again tying him to the president.

“The new Rick Baker: angry, deceptive and backwards,” a voiceover says.

“Rick Baker is taking a page from Donald Trump’s playbook. He’s willing to say or do anything to win an election—anything besides challenge Donald Trump. Even when Trump embraced white supremacists, Baker was silent. Now that his campaign is flailing, he’s willing to lie if it means getting his old job back. Baker seems to have traded his dignity for $25,000 from the RNC,” Florida Democratic Party Deputy Communications Director Amir Avin said in a press release announcing the ad.

Rubio, Nelson to Trump admin: Fix roads & bridges in Puerto Rico

Keeping up their bipartisan stance on Puerto Rican aid, Florida’s U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio are calling on President Donald Trump’s administration to make repairs to the island’s roads and bridges.

Damage to the transportation infrastructure is making it harder to get “essential aid and supplies” to Puerto Ricans a month after Hurricane Maria ravaged the U.S. territory, the senators argued in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and FEMA Director Brock Long.

“Recovery efforts in rural areas, and in communities throughout Puerto Rico, will continue to be slow if these infrastructure needs are not addressed. It is critical that FEMA and DOT work together to quickly reconnect isolated communities to the rest of the island, and begin the larger task of helping Puerto Rico rebuild its transportation infrastructure,” Nelson, a Democrat, and Rubio, a Republican, wrote in a letter to the administration officials today.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

As you well know, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017 as a major storm that has left the island in disarray.  Now, more than a month later, many citizens continue to lack reliable access to essential aid and supplies due to infrastructure that has been critically damaged or destroyed. We are writing to urge the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to promptly assist and identify interim solutions for Puerto Rico in repairing its damaged roads and bridges.

During our recent visits to Puerto Rico, we witnessed the devastation this storm caused to the island’s infrastructure, including numerous bridges that were damaged or completely destroyed. The hurricane hit rural communities in Puerto Rico’s mountainous interior especially hard, effectively cutting them off from the rest of the island. It has been reported that small communities, such as Charco Abajo in rural Utuado, have resorted to replacing bridges with makeshift pulley systems to ferry supplies across the Vivi River. While the ingenuity on behalf of local residents has helped deliver supplies to areas that federal officials overlooked, it is not a sustainable or safe solution.

What are your agencies’ plans to ensure the delivery of aid to Puerto Rico’s isolated, rural communities in light of this infrastructure damage?

What interim solutions can be enacted to quickly restore access to these communities?

What are the agencies’ plans to help rebuild and repair roads and bridges on the island?

Recovery efforts in rural areas, and in communities throughout Puerto Rico, will continue to be slow if these infrastructure needs are not addressed. It is critical that FEMA and DOT work together to quickly reconnect isolated communities to the rest of the island, and begin the larger task of helping Puerto Rico rebuild its transportation infrastructure.

Thank you for your prompt consideration of this matter.

 

Rubio: Trump admin response to Cuba “weak, unacceptable, and outrageous”

First he criticized President Donald Trump’s administration for a lackluster response to the “humanitarian crisis” developing in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

Now, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio lambasted Trump’s state department for its handling of attacks on American diplomats in Cuba.

The U.S. Department of State announced Friday it is yanking more than half its staff from the American embassy in Havana, following mysterious attacks affecting nearly two-dozen staffers.

In a statement released Friday, Rubio blasted the Trump administration as “weak, unacceptable and outrageous” for not tossing Cuban diplomats out of the U.S.

Here’s Rubio’s full statement:

“In light of these harmful attacks against American diplomatic personnel in Cuba, it is weak, unacceptable and outrageous for the U.S. State Department to allow Raul Castro to keep as many of his operatives in the U.S. as he wants. The Cuban government has failed its obligation under international treaties to keep foreign diplomats safe on its soil. The idea that Cuba knows nothing about how these attacks took place and who perpetrated them is absurd. The State Department must conduct its own investigation independent of the Castro regime and submit a comprehensive report to Congress. Until those responsible for these attacks are brought to justice, the U.S. should immediately expel an equal number of Cuban operatives, downgrade the U.S. embassy in Havana to an interests section, and consider relisting Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, also released a statement, calling the attacks on the American embassy personnel “inexcusable.”

Here’s what Nelson had to say:

“The fact that the Cuban government isn’t protecting the health and wellbeing of our U.S. Embassy personnel is inexcusable. With the loss of hearing and stroke-like-symptoms, the Cuban government owes an explanation and reparations to the families of those injured and must work to ensure these attacks cease immediately. In the meantime, the Cuban Embassy’s staff in Washington, D.C. should be reduced by the same proportionate number of U.S. personnel recalled.”