2018 Brings New Opioid Enforcement Tools To The U.S. Department Of Justice And Pennsylvania State Government

Posted On Wednesday, February 7, 2018
By: John A. Schwab

What Happened?

The first month of 2018 brought significant attention to the opioid crisis facing the United States.  Both the U.S. Department of Justice and Pennsylvania’s state government have recently made announcements that they are developing new tools to combat this multi-faceted problem.

The Rundown

Most prominent of the January 2018 enforcement opioid-related efforts are those brought to bear by the U.S. Department of Justice:

  • On January 29, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced to a Pittsburgh audience the formation of the Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement team (J-CODE), a new resource to target internet-based drug traffickers.  The J-CODE team will coordinate across the FBI’s offices worldwide and “target and disrupt the sale of synthetic opioids and other drugs on the darknet.”  General Sessions stated that this resource will allow the federal government to make more arrests of those selling drugs over the internet and shut down the marketplaces used by online drug dealers.  Additional details of this program are discussed in White-Collared’s January 30 post here.
  • On January 30, 2018, Attorney General Sessions announced a “surge” by the DEA focusing its efforts on pharmacies and prescribers dispensing an unusual or disproportionate amount of drugs.  Through the surge, the DEA’s special agents, diversion investigators, and intelligence research specialists will aggregate the 80 million transaction reports collected annually from manufacturers and distributors and identify trends and statistical outliers.  This data will then be used in – as General Sessions described it – “targeting packages” for the DEA’s investigative and prosecutorial efforts.

Governor Tom Wolf has spent early-2018 announcing efforts to step up Pennsylvania’s response related to the opioid crisis:

  • On January 10, 2018, Governor Wolf signed a state-wide disaster emergency declaration to enhance the Commonwealth’s response to the opioid epidemic and increase access to treatment.  The Governor’s declaration recognized the opioid crisis as a public health emergency mandating new enforcement efforts at all levels of state government.
  • Also on January 10, 2018, Governor Wolf announced the creation of Pennsylvania’s Opioid Operational Command Center to gather and analyze data from the Department of Health’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.  This program collects data from hospital emergency departments across the state.  Of the 171 hospital emergency rooms in Pennsylvania, 152 are reporting as part of the system.

For the Record

“This data is critical to not only determining where resources are needed, but to identify localized prescribing trends.  We will be able to use this tool to improve education and resources and prescribers to insure that opioids are being prescribed judiciously to patients,” said Pennsylvania’s Acting Heath Secretary and Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine.

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