'It's hurting the whole nation,' U.S. attorney general says of opioid epidemic

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions addresses a drug summit Thursday at the University of Charleston. (WCHS/WVAH)

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a drug summit in Charleston Thursday that the opioid and prescription drug epidemic is gripping the country, hitting places like West Virginia extremely hard and destroying the lives of so many Americans.

“We are seeing an unprecedented wave of opioid and prescription drug abuse in our country,” Sessions said during an address at the University of Charleston at the Drug Enforcement Administration’s 360 Heroin & Opioid Response Summit.

“It’s hurting the whole nation. It has hit this same area of the country very hard, with West Virginia having the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country.”

Sessions said the problem is very real in his home state of Alabama, where he said it has the highest per capita consumption of opioid prescription drugs in the country.

The attorney general cited a recent event in New Hampshire attended by 9,000 high school students. He said 50 mothers stood up with pictures of their children who had died of drug overdoses.

“It was just a stunning moment,” he said.

People in Washington, D.C., describe lots of things as a crisis, Sessions said, but the drug situation in the United States is not overstated.

“I really believe this epidemic of opioid abuse is a crisis. It’s ravaging our communities, bringing crime and violence to our streets and destroying the lives of so many Americans,” he said.

Sessions said there are some tools, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration’s 360 strategy that can help fight the problems. He said coordinated efforts between federal authorities and local law enforcement will help fight drug cartels and drug traffickers.

Diversion control also will be important and keeping drugs for legitimate purposes from ending up in the wrong hands and being misused. He said far too many opioids are being prescribed, and he said the DEA is working with manufacturers and wholesalers to battle the situation. Sessions said some pharmacies and practitioners have been far too “loose” in what they’re doing.

The attorney general lauded efforts to prosecute medical providers who have been operating “pill mills.” Sessions cited the case of a Beckley doctor who was recently prosecuted for over-prescribing.

Sessions’ visit to Charleston was not without some controversy. The attorney general’s motorcade arrived before a group of about four protesters formed. Some protesters hoisted signs that included messages that said: “Jail Trump Not Addicts” and “Drug Addiction Is an Illness, Not a Crime.”

At the event, stakeholders and professionals working in law enforcement prevention and education, treatment, recovery, health care and emergency response will gather to discuss strategies, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney General’s Office.

The 360 project is designed to help cities and regions deal with heroin and prescription drug abuse and violent crime associated with it.

Below is a Twitter Moment of Sessions' visit to Charleston.

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