AG Jeff Sessions addresses US opioid epidemic in Cleveland

CLEVELAND (AP) — U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions during an appearance in Cleveland on Wednesday outlined three enforcement actions aimed at loosening the opioid epidemic’s “grip of death and destruction” on the nation.

“Today’s announcements are a warning to every trafficker, every crooked doctor or pharmacist and every drug company, every chairman and foreign national and company that puts greed before the lives and health of the American people,” Sessions said.

Those actions included the country’s first-ever civil injunction that has barred two Ohio doctors from prescribing drugs; the indictment of two Chinese nationals accused of shipping powerful synthetic opioids around the globe; and a recent operation to shut down the country’s biggest “dark net” distributor of drugs.

Sessions said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently estimated there were 72,000 fatal drug overdoses in the country last year, adding that recent data show the number of deaths may be leveling off.

“We are sadly aware that Ohio is at the center of the drug epidemic,” Sessions said, noting that the state had the nation’s second-highest overdose death rate in 2016 behind West Virginia.

The civil injunction was filed last week against doctors based in northern Ohio. Prosecutors said one of the doctors advertised his services at gyms and directly sold opioids and steroids to undercover agents. The second physician is accused of selling opioids and other prescription drugs and taking $175,000 in illegal kickbacks from a manufacturer of liquid fentanyl that’s used to treat cancer patients.

Sessions announced a 43-count indictment filed against a 35-year-old man and his 62-year-old father who live in Shanghai and are accused of engaging in a conspiracy to manufacture and ship 250 types of synthetic narcotics globally. The indictment said the pair has used shell companies to ship narcotics to customers in 25 different countries and 37 U.S. states and that drugs they sold are directly responsible for two overdose deaths in Akron, Ohio.

The pair also sold fake drugs, including cancer medication that was actually bath salts, Sessions said.

The third case involves an undercover operation that earlier this year shut down a San Antonio-based operation that sold drugs, including fentanyl and heroin, on dark websites using private messaging and encrypted software to avoid detection from law enforcement.

All of the cases are being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cleveland.