U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions highlighted the importance of prevention at a stop in Charleston Thursday before a summit on the opioid epidemic.
Sessions gave the opening remarks at the West Virginia Opioid Summit at the University of Charleston Thursday morning.
The summit is part of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s new 360 strategy, a pilot program that has the federal organization partnering closely with state and local law enforcement to combat the nation’s substance abuse epidemic.
Charleston is one of six pilot cities.
Sessions said Pres. Donald Trump has directed the Department of Justice to take on the nation’s opioid crisis.
The first part of the administration’s plan is to secure the country’s border to prevent drug trafficking. The second, to create partnership like the 360 strategy, to support local efforts, and the third is to work with medical professionals, drug companies, and others to reduce the number of opioids being prescribed, but Sessions said there is another piece that’s crucial.
“We can’t arrest our way out of the problem and that is true, we can’t. It is a big critical part of it, but prevention, I truly believe, is the greatest part of our challenge and over time prevention will help us be the most effective,” he said.
Sessions said 53,000 Americans died from an overdose last year, and more than two-thirds of those deaths were due to opioids, either prescriptions or heroin.
He said while education efforts won’t work overnight, they will work, preventing the nation from returning to previous trends of high drug use in young people.
“We do not need to go back to that trend. We can stop it before it gets there, but we’re on a bad trend right now," he said. "We’ve got too much complacency about drugs, too much talk about recreational drugs. That’s the same thing you used to hear in the 80s.”
Sessions’ visit comes two days after the firing of FBI director James Comey, who was leading an investigation into Russia’s tampering in the 2016 presidential election and the Trump campaign’s potential ties to the country.
Sessions made no mention of the controversy, but Trump previously said Sessions recommended the firing.
Sessions did not take questions from the media following the speech.