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AG Sessions unveils aggressive fentanyl enforcement on even small amounts

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The amount of fentanyl shown in this image is a typically lethal amount in humans. (Courtesy photo/DEA)

CONCORD - Attorney General Jeff Sessions and U.S. Attorney Scott W. Murray on Thursday announced Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge (S.O.S.), a new program that seeks to reduce the supply of deadly synthetic opioids in high impact areas and to identify wholesale distribution networks and international and domestic suppliers.

As part of Operation S.O.S., the Department will launch an enforcement surge in 10 districts with some of the highest drug overdose death rates, including the District of New Hampshire. New Hampshire has experienced record numbers of deaths from fentanyl overdoses and has one of the highest per-capita overdose death rates in the United States.

Each participating United States Attorney's Office will choose a specific county and prosecute every readily provable case involving the distribution of fentanyl, fentanyl analogues, and other synthetic opioids, regardless of drug quantity. The surge will involve a coordinated DEA Special Operations Division operation to ensure that leads from street-level cases are used to identify larger scale distributors.

Operation S.O.S. was inspired by a promising initiative of the United States Attorney's Office in the Middle District of Florida involving Manatee County, Fla.

In New Hampshire, the U.S. Attorney's Office will focus its efforts on Hillsborough County. This county, which includes Manchester and Nashua, has the highest number of overdose deaths in the state. The program is expected to be initiated in the near future.

"When it comes to synthetic opioids, there is no such thing as a small case," Attorney General Sessions said. "In 2016, synthetic opioids killed more Americans than any other kind of drug. Three milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal - that's not even enough to cover up Lincoln's face on a penny. Our prosecutors in Manatee County, Florida have shown that prosecuting seemingly small synthetic opioids cases can have a big impact and save lives, and we want to replicate their success in the districts that need it most. This new strategy - and the new prosecutors who will help carry it out - will help us put more traffickers behind bars and keep the American people safe from the threat of these deadly drugs."

"The opioid crisis has had a devastating impact on New Hampshire, taking promising young lives and damaging our communities," said U.S. Attorney Murray. "I am grateful to the Attorney General for his ongoing commitment to assist our state's efforts to respond to this issue. Through Operation S.O.S., we will be able to enhance our aggressive efforts to identify and prosecute those who are distributing fentanyl and other deadly opioids in the Granite State. We look forward to partnering with the Hillsborough County Attorney's Office and all of the law enforcement agencies operating in that county to implement this program. Working together, we can ensure that fentanyl dealers are required to face justice in federal court."

The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces Executive Office will send an additional two-year term Assistant United States Attorney to each participating district to assist with drug-related prosecutions. In addition to New Hampshire, the following districts also will receive additional prosecutors:

Northern District of Ohio

Southern District of Ohio

Eastern District of Tennessee

Eastern District of Kentucky

Southern District of West Virginia

Northern District of West Virginia

District of Maine

Eastern District of California

Western District of Pennsylvania

Operation S.O.S. is based upon successful prosecution efforts in the Middle District of Florida. Aggressive prosecutions of synthetic opioid traffickers in Manatee County resulted in a 77.1 percent reduction in overdoses and a 74.2 percent reduction in deaths.

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