The Justice Department on Wednesday said it is stepping up enforcement efforts to combat the opioid crisis.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the agency will dedicate $12 million in grants to help police target illegal manufacturers and dealers of prescription opioids, heroin and methamphetamine.
The department is also directing U.S. attorneys around the country to designate an “opioid coordinator” for each office, and the Drug Enforcement Agency will open a new field division in Louisville to cover Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia, where communities have suffered particularly high rates of opioid addiction.
“I’m convinced that our law enforcement efforts save lives, because they prevent new addictions from starting. By enforcing our laws, we keep illegal drugs out of the country, reduce their availability, drive up their price and reduce their purity,” Sessions said at a brief press conference at Justice Department headquarters.
Opioid addiction rates have skyrocketed in recent years, with more than 140 Americans a day dying from opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The announcement suggests the Trump administration is prioritizing a law enforcement response to the opioid crisis even as questions linger about how it plans to approach the public health aspect of treating addiction.
The new opioid coordinators that the Justice Department announced Wednesday, for example, will be charged with working closely with prosecutors and law enforcement “to coordinate and optimize federal opioid prosecutions in every district.”
The Trump administration called for $100 billion in its budget request earlier this year to take on the issue, but the White House was widely criticized last month when it declared the opioid crisis a “public health emergency” without directing any substantial new funding. It has stopped short of labeling the crisis a national emergency, which would more rapidly free funds for addiction treatment, prescription monitoring and other steps.
A public health emergency, by contrast, expires after 90 days, although it can be renewed.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has pledged to “unlock treatment for people in need,” but he has also made more hard-line statements, emphasizing prevention efforts resembling former first lady Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” campaign of the 1980s.
A “massive advertising campaign,” he said in announcing the public health emergency last month, would “get people, especially children, not to want to take drugs in the first place. They will see the devastation and the ruination it causes to people and people’s lives.”
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, who has helped lead the administration’s work on opioids, attended Wednesday’s announcement at Justice Department headquarters, where Sessions thanked her and said, “She understands the messaging.”
Speaking with Fox News earlier this month, Conway seemed to echo Trump’s focus on marketing and prevention, arguing that the best way for people to reduce rates of drug abuse and addiction is by “not starting in the first place.”
found at usnews.com