Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Scott W. Brady, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, announced “Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge” Thursday.
The program, known as Operation SOS, seeks to identify wholesale distribution networks and international and domestic suppliers and to reduce the supply of deadly synthetic opioids in high impact areas.
The Department of Justice will begin an increase in enforcement in 10 districts with some of the highest drug overdose death rates as part of Operation SOS, including the Western District of Pennsylvania.
The enforcement increase will involve a coordinated DEA Special Operations Division operation to make sure that leads from street-level cases are used to locate larger-scale distributors.
Operation SOS stemmed from an initiative of the United States Attorney’s Office in the Middle District of Florida, involving Manatee County.
Said Sessions, “When it comes to synthetic opioids, there is no such thing as a small case. In 2016, synthetic opioids killed more Americans than any other kind of drug. Three milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal – that’s not even enough to cover up Lincoln’s face on a penny.”
Brady called the opioid epidemic “the single greatest drug crisis of our lifetimes.”
“Opioid-related overdoses have increased to unprecedented levels, with fentanyl and its analogues more available and lethal than ever,” said Brady. “In response, we have attacked this epidemic with urgency. In partnership with Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone, our appointment of a Washington County Assistant District Attorney to serve as a Special Assistant United States Attorney has resulted in dozens of successful prosecutions and a reduction in the number of overdose deaths. Through Operation SOS, the addition of a full-time federal prosecutor to focus on this ‘hot spot’ county within our district will allow us to continue this vital work.”
In 2017, Washington County had 98 fatal drug overdoses, 71 of which contained fentanyl. In 2016, there were 109 overdoses, with 68 containing fentanyl; in 2015, there were 73 overdoses, 38 containing fentanyl.The 10 participating districts are:
Northern District of Ohio
Southern District of Ohio
Eastern District of Tennessee
Eastern District of Kentucky
Southern District of West Virginia
Northern District of West Virginia
District of Maine
Eastern District of California
Western District of Pennsylvania
District of New Hampshire