WASHINGTON — U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced new resources and efforts Wednesday to respond to the opioid crisis, including a new office aimed at directing efforts in Appalachia.
The efforts will include providing law enforcement with more than $12 million in grants, allowing U.S. attorneys to appoint an opioid coordinator to work with prosecutors and the establishment of a new Drug Enforcement Administration field division in Louisville, Kentucky. The office will be used to coordinate actions in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia.
“I believe that these changes will make law enforcement more effective — and make the American people safer. But our work is not finished.” Sessions said in prepared remarks. “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.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 33,000 people died in 2015 from overdosing on opioid drugs. West Virginia has the highest rate in the country with 41.5 deaths per 100,000 people.
The CDC reported in October more than 64,000 people died from risky use of heroin, opioids or synthetic opioids — including fentanyl — in 2016.
“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,” Sessions said.
Sessions added he would also be willing to support a new law that allows the DEA to be more thorough with policies, noting the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016, which limited the agency’s authority.
The Washington Post and CBS’ “60 Minutes” covered the law in an October investigation and how it was pushed by lobbyists with DEA experience.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., applauded Sessions’ announcement.
“I am also glad that he’s supportive of Congress repealing the law that limited the DEA’s authority to regulate the pharmaceutical industry and enforce our nation’s drug laws,” he said. “These are good steps but West Virginia needs more funding, treatment centers and other resources to reverse the damage done by the opioid epidemic.”
Buzzfeed reported Wednesday Counselor to the White House Kellyanne Conway will oversee the executive branch’s effort regarding the opioid epidemic.
President Donald Trump declared the matter a national public health emergency in October. The president’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis recommended in a report released earlier this month the establishment of additional drug courts, as well as block grant funding for the creation of the courts.