How Sessions Plans To Fight Opioid Crisis With Kellyanne Conway's Help

By Paul Gaita 11/30/17

Part of Sessions' plan is to create a new DEA division that will be charged with helping law enforcement curb the crisis in Appalachia.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced a trio of new initiatives designed to assist state and federal law enforcement to combat the opioid epidemic in the United States.

Speaking at a press conference on November 29 at the Department of Justice (DOJ), Sessions, along with Acting Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Robert Patterson, said in prepared remarks that the initiatives will include more than $12 million in grants to aid police and federal agents in halting the production and distribution of prescription opioids, methamphetamine and heroin.

The DEA will also establish a new Field Division in Louisville, Kentucky, a move aimed to boost investigations into fentanyl and opioid trafficking in the Appalachian mountain region, an area with some of the highest overdose death rates in the nation. Sessions also said that White House adviser Kellyanne Conway will "coordinate and lead the effort" from the White House, and described her as "exceedingly talented" in regard to "understand[ing] messaging."

In addition to the aforementioned initiatives, Sessions will require all U.S. Attorneys to establish an Opioid Coordinator, which will "tailor their district's response to the needs of the community it serves" in regard to opioid-related cases, including the creation of law enforcement task forces to identify opioid cases for federal prosecution.

Of these efforts, Sessions said that they "will make our law enforcement efforts and more effective—and ultimately, they will save American lives."

The Louisville field office will be established from the current Louisville District Office, and will assign 90 agents and approximately 130 task force officers to cover Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee. Agents from other field offices in the region welcomed the new realignment, which is the first such effort by the DEA in two decades.

"This will bring additional DEA resources to the area to investigate prescription drug abuse, heroin and fentanyl," said DEA Agent Patrick Trainor, public information officer for the agency's Philadelphia field office. "I think it's a good move, in that [opioid abuse] has expanded beyond anyone's imagination."

Recent studies show that the death rate from opioid overdoses in West Virginia and Kentucky are among the highest in the nation—35 per 100,000 people in West Virginia and 20 per 100,000 in Kentucky. The nationwide rate is approximately 10 per 100,000 people.

In regard to Conway's appointment, Sessions said that President Donald Trump had asked for her to serve as the White House's unofficial liaison for these new initiatives. "Her appointment represents a very significant commitment from the president and the White House," said the attorney general, which several media outlets took to assume that Conway would be named "opioid czar," though the appellation was never specifically mentioned.  

Conway has reportedly been present at White House events on opioid addiction awareness and at meetings of the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, though Conway attracted some negative media attention for comments made in October, in which she said that "the best way to stop people from dying from overdoses and drug abuse is by not starting in the first place."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.