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Sessions: DOJ To Step Up Drug Enforcement Efforts In Maine

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in Portland Friday promoting a boosted effort to enforce opioid laws in regions, including Maine, that have been hit especially hard by the epidemic.

Sessions told state, county and local law enforcement officials that the Trump administration will hire a new federal prosecutor for Maine to focus on drug crimes. He also said that federal officials in 10 states, including Maine, will prosecute every case involving the sale of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, regardless of the quantity involved.

“Depending on the purity, you can fit more than 1000 fatal doses of fentanyl in a teaspoon,” Sessions said. “I want to be clear about it — we're not focusing on users, but on those supplying these deadly drugs.”

Sessions said that enforcing drug crimes is one element of an overall, $6 billion strategy to reduce opioid abuse.

"It has three key components, of course, prevention, enforcement and treatment," Sessions said. "Our role, primarily, in law enforcement is enforcement. But I think enforcement is a part of prevention too."

"I think it's a great step towards getting the people that are poisoning our communities out,” said Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce.

Credit Robert F. Bukaty / Maine Public
Maine Public
Protesters expressed their displeasure with the Trump administration's policies prior to an event where Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered remarks on the opioid and fentanyl crisis

Joyce welcomed the prospect of boosted enforcement, but he also called for more government funding of treatment programs in Maine.

"That's a problem, and that's one of the questions I'll have for the U.S. attorney is: what are we doing about sustaining the ability to be able to do the substance use rehabilitation? Hopefully the next time we meet somebody from Washington, they're coming up to talk about how we're going to fund that,” Joyce said.

Senator Angus King seconded the thought, in an interview after he finished a roundtable discussion in Camden on the opioid crisis.

"One of the things we were hearing today is that there are treatments that work, that have good success rates, but we don't have the infrastructure or the practitioners to provide the treatment, and we've got to work through that,” said King.

According to the state Attorney General's office, Maine saw 418 drug related deaths last year, the most ever. In the first quarter of this year, the proportion of deaths from pharmaceutical drugs declined, with non-prescription fentanyl responsible for a majority of the deaths.

This story was originally published July 13, 2016 at 12:52 p.m. ET.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.