Sessions says new efforts will fight nation's drug epidemic

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says during a speech in Charleston, W.Va., Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017, that the Department of Justice has new efforts to fight drug abuse. (WCHS/WVAH)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WCHS/WVAH) - U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday the nation is fighting the worst prescription and opioid epidemic in its history, but he believes some of the steps the Department of Justice has taken will make great inroads in tackling the problems.

“I believe the department’s new resources will reduce prescription abuse and save lives,” Sessions said Thursday at the Sheraton Four Points in Charleston. “I believe this is a war we can win.”

Speaking at an event sponsored by the American Conservation Union Foundation and Cardinal Institute called “West Virginia on the Rise: Rebuilding the Economy, Rebuilding Lives,” Sessions said the Department of Justice has created an opioid fraud and abuse detection unit that will examine data and look for the telltale signs of health care fraud.

The attorney general said the unit will be able to determine which physicians are writing excessive prescriptions, how many patients have died within 60 days of getting a prescription, the average age of those getting prescriptions, and which pharmacies are writing prescriptions.

“Fraudsters lie, but these numbers don’t,” Sessions said.

Twelve assistant experienced prosecutors have been assigned by the Justice Department to prosecute opioid health care abuse in hotspots in the country, including Southern West Virginia.

“You will have another prosecutor whose sole purpose will be to prosecute opioid health care fraud,” Sessions said.

The attorney general mentioned the recent sentencing of a doctor in Raleigh County in Southern West Virginia to 20 years in prison. The doctor wrote 400 prescriptions in one day without seeing the 270 patients he prescribed them for, Sessions said.

Sessions said the numbers about drug abuse are staggering. In 2015, 52,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses, and 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016. West Virginia had the highest rate of overdoses in 2015, three times the national average.

Economic success in the United States is being harmed by the drug problems in the country, he said.

“Our country is advanced having more Americans drug free and ready to work,” he said.

There was a room full of conservatives who watched the attorney general’s speech, but outside he had his detractors. Some protesters gathered to oppose some of his policies.

Following Sessions' speech, he sat down with Eyewitness News Lead Political Reporter Kennie Bass for an exclusive one-on-one interview.

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