CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions said during a visit to Charleston Thursday prevention is the key to fighting the heroin and opioid epidemic.

“The best thing we can do is to keep people from ever abusing drugs in the first place,” Sessions said to a round of applause from those gathered at a stakeholders summit, part of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s 360 Strategy that has chosen Charleston and the surrounding area for its resources and assistance.

Sessions said prevention includes education which is a long term effort. He encouraged those in attendance to keep up the fight.

“It doesn’t work overnight but those of you who are involved in that I urge you to keep at it because you are telling the truth and the truth can penetrate if you tell it enough times,” Sessions said.

Before his time as a U.S. Senator, Sessions was a federal prosecutor. He said he remembers the “Just Say No” drug campaign. He said the fight now is much more focused and can be more successful. The message must be clear, Sessions said.

“Illegal drugs are dangerous and deadly. Say no, don’t do it, it’s not right to do it. It’s wrong to do it. It’s wrong to help other people, lead them into drug use when they have no business doing so,” he said.

Sessions, along with his boss President Donald Trump, have been criticized for a hard-line stance in the enforcement area. Sessions said Thursday he agrees “we can’t arrest our way out of this” but added enforcement is a key component.

“We need to take back our neighborhoods from drug traffickers and criminals. To raise the price on drugs, make it less available and to reduce the purity of illegal drugs,” Sessions said.

West Virginia now has a medical marijuana law after this year’s legislative session while several other states have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Sessions said some attitudes about drugs are concerning.

“We’ve got too much complacency about drugs, too much talking about recreational drugs. That’s the same thing we heard in the 80’s. That’s the same thing the pro-drug crowd argued then,” he said.

The DEA announced in February Charleston and the surrounding area had been chosen for DEA360 Strategy which focuses on diversion control, law enforcement and community outreach.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia Carol Casto welcomed the DEA efforts and Sessions.

“Today is a reminder that we are not alone. We are in the fight for our lives,” Casto said.

U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito also commented on the drug epidemic.

“We are losing too many of our coworkers, family and friends,” Capito said.

She introduced Sessions calling him a “very committed, loyal, public servant.”

About a dozen protesters gathered outside during Sessions’ visit. They were members of the groups Rise Up WV and Wood County Indivisible.

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