Top officials from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Wednesday jointly announced new initiatives to combat the United States' opioid misuse epidemic.
The announcement comes after DOJ and DEA earlier this month unveiled plans to classify illicit fentanyl analogues on an emergency basis to criminalize the possession, distribution, or manufacturing of illicit forms of fentanyl.
The latest response
During a press conference, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and acting DEA Administrator Robert Patterson unveiled three new initiatives:
- Restructuring DEA's Field Divisions for the first time in nearly two decades, including creating a new field office in Louisville, Kentucky, which will serve Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia, as well as about 90 special agents and 130 task-force officers who will focus on illicit drug trafficking in the Appalachian Mountains;
- Issuing more than $12 million in grant funding for state and local law enforcement efforts to combat the manufacturing of methamphetamine and the distribution of heroin and the unlawful distribution of prescription opioids;
- Requiring all U.S. Attorneys to designate an Opioid Coordinator who will coordinate the state's opioid misuse response plan with other federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement officials.
Patterson said the DEA restructuring and the creation of a new field division "will produce more effective investigations on heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioid trafficking."
Sessions, who characterized the current opioid misuse epidemic as the "worst drug crisis in American history," also said White House adviser Kellyanne Conway will be overseeing the Trump administration's opioid misuse response efforts. "The president has made this a White House priority. He's asked her to coordinate and lead the effort from the White House," Sessions said.
While the White House said Conway will continue to oversee the administration's opioid misuse response as part of her current job responsibilities, Axios' "Vitals" reports that she has not been named the White House's "opioid czar." Such a position currently does not exist, though some experts say appointing a dedicated individual to oversee the response efforts would be beneficial, "Vitals" reports.
For instance, Ron Klain, who served as "Ebola czar" for former President Barack Obama, said, "I don't think someone can seriously coordinate a complex policy from the White House as a part-time job," adding, "I presume that Kellyanne Conway had a full time job at the White House before she took this on. So, I don't understand how you can say that you are making something a high-priority, 'emergency' response if someone is leading it in their limited spare time" (Hellman, The Hill, 11/29; Tillett, CBS News, 11/29; Johnson, USA Today, 11/29; Horwitz/Zapotosky, Washington Post, 11/29; Baker, "Vitals," Axios, 11/30; Department of Justice release, 11/29).
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