Attorney General Sessions Calls Opioid Epidemic a “Winnable War,” Emphasizes Enforcement and Incarceration as Solution

Press Release July 31, 2017
Media Contact

Tony Newman (646)335-5384
Michael Collins (404) 539-6437

In a speech in Columbus, Ohio today Sessions announced a new plan to boost investigations and prosecutions of opioid prescribers and dispensers and reiterated his support for a law enforcement-led approach to drug policy. Sessions repeated his long-held skepticism of treatment saying it is “not enough” and urged law enforcement to pursue illegal possession of prescriptions just days after President Trump’s bipartisan Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis released an interim report to the president recommending a major expansion of treatment and other health resources to address the opioid crisis.

“Sessions is clearly not on the same page as the experts when it comes to the opioid epidemic,” said Michael Collins, Deputy Director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “His emphasis on enforcement as the only approach is directly at odds with the White House Commission’s recommendations on expanding treatment and embracing public health approaches. The Commission had some forward-thinking suggestions, whereas Sessions is keen to take us back to the failed lock-them-up and throw away the key approach of 1980s.”

Advocates say that Sessions’s comments raise questions about whether his approach to drug policy will undermine the recommendations the opioid commission has made to Trump. Indeed, in his remarks Sessions called the opioid epidemic “a winnable war,” directly channeling the language of the failed war on drugs. Sessions also announced the formation of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, with twelve prosecutors to “target and prosecute these doctors, pharmacies, and medical providers who are furthering this epidemic to line their pockets.” Critics note that the DEA proposed a similar program earlier in the year, which was viewed by critics as a backdoor way of expanding the war on drugs.

In addition to his problematic statement that treatment “very often fails,” Sessions also repeated the myth-laden story of an Ohio police officer who claimed to have overdosed by touching fentanyl. The story has since been debunked by medical experts who note that you cannot overdose simply by touching fentanyl. Such scaremongering also echoes the worst of the drug war.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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