opioid crisis

Aronberg to head up national initiative on opioid abuse

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Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg will lead a national group of prosecutors to develop policy proposals focused on the opioid crisis.

Aronberg, a former state senator who once served as Attorney General Pam Bondi’s drug czar, will chair the Working Group of the National District Attorneys Association, according to a press release issued by his office this morning.

From the press release:

The goal of the Working Group is to develop the first national policy document from prosecutors with proposals to address the opioid crisis aimed at federal, state and local policymakers.  The final product, which is expected to be released in May, will include best practices from local jurisdictions and recommendations on prevention, criminal investigations, enforcement and rehabilitation.

“The goal is to ensure that our nation’s laws reflect the new reality of today’s unprecedented opioid epidemic that kills more than 115 Americans each day,” said Aronberg.  “More Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016 than were killed in the Vietnam War,” said Aronberg, noting that “opioids in particular present unique challenges to communities scrambling to respond to this growing scourge.”

State Attorney Aronberg, who previously served as the Florida Attorney General’s “Drug Czar,” currently leads a Task Force in Palm Beach County that has targeted fraud and abuse in the drug treatment industry.  The Task Force has made 42 arrests in the past year for patient brokering and has led to changes in Florida law to toughen penalties and tighten regulation over the drug rehab industry.

Aronberg added that “prosecutors and law enforcement have been on the front lines of this fight to save lives and protect our communities from the ravages of drug abuse, so it’s fitting that the NDAA has taken a leadership role on this issue.”

 

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.

Bondi, other AGs target drug industry in opioid probe

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and other attorneys general are targeting drug manufacturers and distributors as well as the insurance industry, in an effort to address the nation’s opioid epidemic.

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the country, with 52,404 fatal overdoses reported in 2015, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Opioid addiction drove the epidemic with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers and 12,990 deaths related to heroin.

Florida, where overdose deaths have spiked over the past two years, is one of the epicenters of the opioid crisis, fueled in part by the widespread use of fentanyl, a deadly painkiller sometimes mixed with heroin.

Bondi and a group of attorneys general are demanding documents and information from pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors related to their opioid business.

The information requests are part of an effort by 41 states to crack down on the opioid crisis.

Bondi, who was appointed by President Donald Trump to serve on the White House’s Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission, has made prescription drug abuse one of her top priorities since she took office in 2011.

“Florida citizens continue to become addicted to opioids and die daily—meanwhile, prescription drug manufacturers, distributors and the medical profession all point fingers at each other as the cause of this national crisis,” Bondi said in a press release issued Tuesday. “This far-reaching multistate investigation is designed to get the answers we need as quickly as possible. The industry must do the right thing. If they do not, we are prepared to litigate.”

On Monday, Bondi joined a separate group of attorneys general who want insurers to make it easier for patients to receive alternative pain management treatments.