Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein Delivers Remarks for the Release of the New Fentanyl Safety Video for First Responders

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Laura, for the kind introduction. As the Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, Laura manages a large portion of the Department of Justice’s operations and budget. Laura, we appreciate your superb work at OJP. Your experience in local and federal law enforcement is invaluable to our efforts.

I am also grateful to Jon Adler and his team for hosting this event.  Jon is the Director of our Bureau of Justice Assistance. He previously spent 25 years in law enforcement, and served as President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and as Vice Chair of the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund.

I am also glad to see Office National Drug Control Policy Deputy Director  Jim Carroll, and the many local, state, and federal first responders and supporters who join us today, including  law enforcement as well as firefighters and emergency medical  services personnel.

Thanks to President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, supporting state and local law enforcement is a core mission of the Department of Justice. We know that we can only achieve our goal of enhancing public safety if we work cooperatively with our law enforcement partners.

Drug abuse is one of our greatest challenges. Our nation is suffering the worst drug epidemic in history. Approximately 72,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdose deaths last year. That represents a shocking 73% increase since 2012.  But while drug abuse surged, federal drug enforcement lapsed. We are working to reverse those trends.

We are doing it in coordination with you. And we appreciate the challenges that you face. Police officers never know what dangers the next call will bring.  That makes the job stressful and demanding, for officers and their families. 

President Trump, Attorney General Sessions, and the entire Department of Justice understand the tremendous risks you take and sacrifices you make every day.  We need to help you stay on offense against the criminal gangs that profit from others’ misery and make the streets unsafe.  Reducing violent crime and drug abuse are top priorities for this administration.

Our Administration devoted additional federal resources to help achieve those goals. In June, Attorney General Sessions announced the largest surge of federal prosecutors in decades.  We are hiring more than 300 new Assistant U.S. Attorneys, and we are empowering those prosecutors to make an impact.

In 2013, the Department of Justice adopted a policy that restricted prosecutors from sentence enhancements for drug traffickers. Beneficiaries of that policy were not obliged to accept responsibility or cooperate with authorities. The total number of drug dealers charged annually in federal court fell from nearly 30,000 to just 22,000. During the same time period, drug-related deaths surged.

In response to the epidemic, Attorney General Sessions authorized federal prosecutors to return to the traditional policy of charging drug traffickers for the most serious readily-provable crime they commit, unless an exception is justified. That policy change gives federal agents and prosecutors the ability to use tough federal sentences to help local state and local police dismantle criminal organizations.

But even as police officers work relentlessly to punish criminal drug traffickers, we know that you routinely are kind and gentle in dealing with addicts and with victims of drug-related violence. 

I am familiar with the commitment of American law enforcement officers to provide compassion and care to people in need.  In April, two members of my security detail were in Chicago when they came across a young woman who was unconscious and near death in a hotel hallway. They did not know it at the time, but she had overdosed on fentanyl.  One of the deputies started performing CPR, while the other deputy called for help. They kept the victim alive until an emergency medical team arrived. The team revived the victim with two doses of naloxone.

The officer who performed CPR on that unconscious stranger was checked at the hospital emergency room, and thankfully received a clean bill of health.

Those officers did not know what kinds of drugs the woman had taken, or whether they were putting themselves at risk of overdose by rendering medical aid.  Such encounters with drug trafficking victims may be as stressful for officers as street encounters with violent criminals. 

The Department of Justice is committed to helping officers stay safe by providing facts and advice about how to avoid harm that could come from accidental exposure to drugs such as fentanyl. 

Last year, preliminary data show that 29,000  Americans were killed by synthetic opioids, a six-fold increase over four years. Synthetic opioids are very dangerous. If proper safeguards are not taken, they can endanger officers who encounter even small quantities.  Drugs such as fentanyl pose serious and potentially fatal risks if are inhaled or come in contact with the eyes or mouth. 

It is important for us to educate everyone about practices you should follow to minimize the risks of contact with fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, and to avoid serious health risks in the event of an incidental exposure.

That is what the video we are releasing today is all about: providing facts and highlighting steps that first responders in the field can take to minimize the dangers of exposure to synthetic opioids.  We are grateful to the FBI, the DEA, and the Bureau of Justice Assistance for collaborating with CBP to produce the video and ensure that the guidelines serve the needs of law enforcement officers and fire/EMS personnel.

We are grateful for the help of our colleagues in the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services who contributed significant expertise to this effort.  This video was developed with support from the National Sheriffs’ Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Major City Chiefs Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, and many other organizations that represent the men and women in blue who serve on the front lines.  It is rewarding to see our law enforcement associations standing side by side with all of the major associations representing Fire and EMS professionals across our nation, who have lent their support and experience to this effort.   You are all essential partners.

We need to make this video and the safety recommendations available to all frontline personnel, so they can stay safe and avoid exposure to dangerous drugs. 

In conclusion, I want to thank the Interagency Working Group and Office of National Drug Control Policy for making this video. It is a great service to our law officers and other first responders.  It will save lives.  Thank you.

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Author: August 30, 2018

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