U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions traveled to the Bluegrass Thursday to meet with families of overdose victims. The country’s top lawyer said it’s time to toughen penalties for sellers of the synthetic opioid fentanyl.
In his remarks to Lexington law enforcement officers, Sessions echoed the “law and order” theme favored by President Donald Trump and ran through a list of sobering statistics, including the national death toll from overdoses in 2016: 64,000.
"That's the equivalent of the entire city of Bowling Green dying from drug overdoses in a single year," he said.
The attorney general outlined steps his office and the Trump administration are taking to fight painkiller abuse – among them the creation of an opioid fraud abuse detection unit and a newly-announced task force focusing on opioid manufacturers and distributors.
Sessions described the epidemic as “the most deadly drug crisis in American history” and said he supports stiffer penalties for those dealing in fentanyl, a drug the National Institute on Drug Abuse says is 50-100 times more potent than morphine.
"We are now presenting our position to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which we think is sympathetic to that view," Sessions said. "It looks to me like right now there's no more deadly, no more dangerous drug than fentanyl. It needs to be at the highest level of punishments."
But tough on crime approach could run counter to many state efforts that emphasize treatment over incarceration.
Sessions’s visit also prompted a statement by Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who said if the attorney general really wants to help end the crisis, he would “join in helping Kentucky legalize medical cannabis.”
The trip marked Sessions' second swing through Kentucky. He made an appearance in Louisville in January, also addressing the opioid crisis.