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AG Sessions promises to drop federal hammer on NH dealers of deadly synthetic dope

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 12. 2018 5:33PM
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions touts the Trump administration's plan to combat the deadly peril of powerful synthetic opioids in New Hampshire. (Josh Gibney/Union Leader)

CONCORD – U.S Attorney General Jeff Sessions said federal prosecutors will bring drug dealing charges against anyone suspected of dealing fentanyl and other synthetic opioids such as carfentanil in New Hampshire, one of 10 states targeted in a crackdown on the powerful, deadly drugs.

Sessions said he will add an additional prosecutor to the office of U.S. Attorney in New Hampshire as part of the nationwide effort, labeled Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge.

“When it comes to fentanyl dealers, there is really no such thing as a small case,” Sessions said.

Sessions announced Operation SOS after meeting the federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors at the U.S. District Court offices in Concord, followed by a similar meeting with state and local officers. Other prosecutors will be provided to areas of Ohio, Tennessee, Kenucky, West Virginia, Maine, California, and Pennsylvania. All have some of the highest overdose death rates in the country, Sessions said, ranking New Hampshire and Ohio second behind only West Virginia.

Before Sessions spoke, dozens of protestors held a “Healthcare Not Prisons” rally outside the courthouse. Speakers said the war on drugs had drained funds from much needed services to help addicts.

Exeter resident Ryan Fowler said he sold and used drugs for a decade until he sobered up. “Today, I am alive and well because of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid expansion and state funding, all of which are under attack,” Fowler said.

“Let’s be real. We know this isn’t being tough on crime; it’s being tough on people,” added Devon Chaffee, executive director of ACLU-New Hampshire.

It’s not clear whether Sessions ever saw the protestors, but in remarks he acknowledged that treatment and prevention programs are critical, but that law enforcement is also necessary.

In fact, much of Sessions speech had the tone of a pep talk for prosecutors and police.

“The middle name of DEA is enforcement, “ Sessions said. It would be a big mistake to allow drug distributions to grow more powerful and not go after them aggressively, he said.

“Law enforcement is also prevention,” Sessions said. “We’re not just locking up criminals to lock up criminals, we’re preventing addiction from spreading. We are saving lives by removing drug dealers from our communities.”

Sessions said the Operation SOS crackdown is modeled after a Manatee County, Fla., program that saw death’s drop 22 percent over a year’s time once federal prosecutors began bringing every “readily provable” case against synthetic opioid dealers.

Sessions did make some political points. He praised President Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh. He listed several administration accomplishments in fighting the drug crisis, including prosecutions of doctors for over prescribing of opioids and health care fraud.

Sessions also labeled Lawrence, Mass., a sanctuary city.

“There can be no sanctuary for drug dealers, fentanyl dealers in this country,” he said.

Sessions also mentioned his previous visits to New Hampshire: a prevention rally in Manchester where 50 mothers of fatal overdose victims appeared on stage holding a photograph of their dead child - “something I will never forget,” he said.

And he talked about visiting Mancheester with President Trump in March as perhaps a turning point in the drug crisis.

Police who met with Sessions stressed the need for more money. In an interview, David Mara, the governor's adviser on addiction and behavioral health, said the need is critical in rural areas, which have never before dealt with so much drug crime.

Mara, known informally as the state's drug czar, praised the program and stressed that he believes federal prosecutors will target fentanyl dealers, not fentanyl users.

“The reason we have deaths is fentanyl, so it’s good to attack where the drugs are coming from,” he said.

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