WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday said doctors are prescribing too many opioids, the same day that Justice Department indicted five doctors working at Pennsylvania opioid addiction treatment centers for health care fraud.
The doctors were charged with unlawfully dispensing controlled substances and health care fraud.
“We’re prescribing way too many opioids,” Sessions in a speech at a National Sheriffs’ Association conference. He reiterated President Donald Trump’s desire to reduce prescription opioids by one-third over three years.
In 2016, 116 Americans died each day from opioid-related drug overdoses, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data comes from 31 states and Washington, D.C. in 2015-2016, making it a partial view of how many people are affected by the crisis.
Almost two-thirds of the 2016 overdoses involved prescription painkillers, such as the deadly fentanyl, the report said. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid at least 30 times stronger than heroin. Fentanyl-related deaths accounted for over 20,000 overdose deaths.
Sessions said that while doctors are prescribing too many drugs, too many drugs are also coming across the Mexico-U.S. border.
Many of the undocumented people entering the country are transporting drugs, Sessions said, citing a recent indictment of Chinese nationals for the international trafficking of fentanyl and other lethal drugs.
“If you’re moving fentanyl, we’re coming after you … . and we’re going to seek real time in jail for you,” Sessions said.
Last October, Trump called the opioid crisis a national health emergency but requested no additional funding at the time to combat it. Congress recently passed an omnibus bill that allotted nearly $4 billion in opioid-related funding, with nearly $1 billion for new grants .
Since taking over as attorney general last year, Sessions has expanded the Justice Department’s role in the opioid epidemic.
Earlier this year, Sessions called for prosecutors to seek the death penalty against drug dealers under a variety of statutes, including racketeering, use of firearm in a drug trafficking crime and dealing in large quantities of drugs.
In recent months, the Justice Department has targeted prescription drug manufacturers and distributors for their role in the opioid crisis and announced it will support hundreds of opioid-related lawsuits against manufacturers and distributors of powerful opioid painkillers.
At Sessions’ request, the Drug Enforcement Administration proposed new regulations to limit opioid production numbers. The creation of two new opioid-related task forces will examine and notify whether pharmacies and physicians dispense and write excessive opioid prescriptions.