Saying there’s “no such thing as a small case,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered lieutenants in areas with the highest overdose rates to doggedly prosecute every case involving fentanyl or another synthetic opioid, saying too many lives are being lost to the potent drugs.
Dubbed Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge — or S.O.S. — the push is part of President Trump’s get-tough approach to drug trafficking, as he treats addiction as a public health emergency.
Opioid overdoses killed 42,000 Americans in 2016, and despite signs of progress, the 2017 numbers all likely be worse. Fentanyl is the top killer among opioids.
“We are not going to accept the status quo. We will not allow this to continue,” Mr. Sessions said in a speech in Concord, New Hampshire. “President Trump has made clear that business as usual is over.”
Mr. Sessions said that a Florida county saw a 22-percent drop in overdose deaths from 2016 to 2017 after it began prosecuting every case involving synthetic opioids, regardless of the amount.
“We can weaken these networks, reduce fentanyl availability, and save lives,” he said. “We are going to arrest, prosecute, and convict fentanyl dealers and we are going to put them in jail.”
Mr. Sessions said the zero-tolerance policy is focused on dealers, not users, and is needed to rein in synthetics that are crafted in overseas labs and cut with the U.S. heroin supply. Unsuspecting users often take too big of a hit of the powder and die.
Following Mr. Trump’s lead, some Senate Republicans filed legislation that would lower the quantity thresholds for handing down mandatory minimum sentences to fentanyl dealers, since it can kill in trace amounts.
“Three milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal. That’s equivalent a pinch of salt,” Mr. Sessions said. “It’s not even enough to cover up Lincoln’s face on a penny.”
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