Thank you so much to U.S. Attorney Young, specifically to you and to your entire staff for the wonderful welcome and the warm hospitality on our visit.
I’m proud to be here in Concord, where I have the distinct honor of announcing the formation of the Department of Justice’s New England Prescription Opioid (NEPO) Strike Force.
Now, as we all know, the opioid epidemic continues to plague many areas of our nation. In the last year alone, more than 75,000 people across this country lost their lives due to opioid overdose.
And be clear, its effect cannot be measured solely by the tragic sum of lives lost. You see, everyday millions of people struggle with the painful repercussions of their addiction. And millions of families, including many of our own families, are living with the heartache of those consequences.
This is an epidemic that has many causes. And we must continue to be just as expansive in our response. Prevention, intervention, treatment, and counseling all are critical tools, and our enforcement efforts must include combating gangs and violent crime as well as illegal drug production and trafficking, both domestically and abroad.
But the NEPO Strike Force will help to address one of those root causes: the unlawful prescription and diversion of opioids.
Now, I make today’s announcement just over three years after the creation of the department’s Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid (ARPO) Strike Force. When I began as the head of the Criminal Division, I asked our Fraud Section to identify the data, study the data, and identify where we should replicate our strike force model. Today, we are gathered here because the New England area was the clear answer.
We are expanding our efforts here because these communities have been particularly devastated by this epidemic. In recent years, some of the greatest spikes in overdoses, overdose deaths, and aberrant opioid prescriptions have all occurred here in the New England area.
The NEPO Strike Force will build on our past success, bringing together the resources and expertise of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, along with our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, and our law enforcement partners in FBI, DEA, and HHS-OIG, along with our state and local law enforcement partners.
NEPO will combat illegal prescription opioids and health care fraud by holding accountable corrupt medical professionals who seek to peddle opioids for profit, often at the expense of the lives of the women and men here in the New England area.
And let me be clear, I know that there are many medical professionals who are diligent. They are law-abiding, and they do their very best for their communities and for their patients, including the appropriate use of prescription drugs for pain management. To those health care professionals: you have my thanks, and we welcome your partnership.
But our focus is on those medical professionals who violate their oath to do no harm and exploit vulnerable patients who are struggling with addiction. We are focused on those who seek to profit from patient addiction and are contributing to the plague of opioid abuse and overdose, too often with deadly results. To those rogue actors: the NEPO Strike Force is here to ensure that your criminal conduct comes to an end. And by doing so, we seek to attain our ultimate goal of reducing addiction and saving lives here in New England.
Thank you all for being here, and I’ll now turn the podium over to our U.S. Attorney from Maine, Darcie McElwee.