Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears to be calling for an overall crackdown on drug use in the United States, viewing it as the best way to reduce deaths from opioid overdoses. Speaking before the annual meeting of the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children, Sessions said that 2016 saw the highest number of drug overdose deaths so far.
Citing preliminary data for 2016, Sessions said there were nearly 60,000 overdose deaths last year. He called the epidemic “the top lethal issue” in the U.S.
“Our current drug epidemic is indeed the deadliest in American history. We’ve seen nothing like it,” he told the group, according to the Associated Press.
The Justice Department has announced new efforts to crack down on drug use in recent months. In May, Sessions reversed a reform put in place by the Obama administration which limited mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders charged with marijuana possession. Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to charge drug users — even low-level marijuana users — with the harshest possible crime they can prove.
In July, Sessions said he had asked the federal Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety to “undertake a review of existing policies in the areas of charging, sentencing, and marijuana.” Along with his move in May, this led reform advocates to conclude that a marijuana crackdown is likely on the way.
In August, he announced he would send 12 federal prosecutors to various cities hard-hit by the opioid epidemic. These prosecutors, part of DOJ efforts to cut down on opioid abuse, will be focusing on investigating opioid scams and healthcare fraud.
“We must not capitulate, intellectually or morally, to drug use. We must create and foster a culture that’s hostile to drug use,” Sessions said at the Tuesday meeting.
Worryingly for legalization states, Sessions also accused the media, Hollywood and unnamed public officials of “sending mixed messages about the harmfulness of drugs.”
Sessions may have been referring to cannabis. The attorney general is widely known to oppose marijuana and sought to end a federal moratorium on DOJ interference with medical marijuana regulation. That moratorium was re-upped in June.