Sessions: Education, enforcement will turn tide opioid fight

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Recalling his days as a federal prosecutor in the 1980s, Attorney General Jeff Sessions told thousands of New Hampshire young people Tuesday that it would take education, prevention and a crackdown on drug gangs to turn the tide against the rising rates of addiction in the country.

Sessions, who made a surprise appearance at a summit on opioid awareness for middle and high school students in Manchester, New Hampshire, described how “drug use had surged” and “cities were filled with heroin addicts” during the 1980s. But thanks to prevention and education, he said “drug use was no longer cool and acceptable. Crime fell and addiction fell.”

“We can turn the tide against drugs and addiction again in America just like we did previously,” he said. “We have proven that education and telling people the truth about drugs and addiction will result in better choices. Drug use will fall. Lives will be saved. Less money will be going into cartels and the drugs gangs, weakening them.”

Sessions said prevention — as emphasized Tuesday — is just as critical today as New Hampshire and other states battle a surge in opioid abuse. Drug overdose deaths resulting from the abuse of heroin and prescription painkillers rose 33 percent in the past five years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New Hampshire saw a 191 percent spike.

“A lot of people still don’t realize how addictive prescription drugs can be,” Sessions said. “These drugs are powerful, and opioid addiction can take hold quickly. Too many teens and adults have overdosed, and the road ahead for people fighting addiction is so tough.”

Going forward, Sessions said the federal government will focus on the excessive prescription of pain medications in the country as well as the criminal gangs that bring drugs into the country.

“Criminal enforcement is essential to stopping the transnational organizations which ship drugs into our country in huge amounts and to stop the thugs and gangs who use violence and extortion to move their products,” he said.

Treatment, he said, also is a tool, but often comes too late after addicts have lost their jobs and families. And it often doesn’t succeed.

“For many, addiction can be a death sentence. I’ve seen families spend all their saving and retirement money on treatment programs to try to help their children just to see sometimes those programs fail,” he said. “It is so heartbreaking.”

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