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PITTSBURGH (AP/KDKA) – Attorney General Jeff Sessions says federal prosecutors in western Pennsylvania and seven other states will pursue even seemingly small synthetic opioid cases in hopes of reducing the supply of the drugs in areas with high overdose death rates.
Sessions announced the new program Thursday. Under Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge, 10 districts in eight states will choose one county in which to prosecute every case involving the sale of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids regardless of the quantity involved.
Washington County will be the focus of the program in western Pennsylvania.
“The opioid epidemic is the single greatest drug crisis of our lifetimes,” said U.S. Attorney Scott Brady of the Western District of Pennsylvania . “Opioid-related overdoses have increased to unprecedented levels, with fentanyl and its analogues more available and lethal than ever.”
According to data released by the Department of Justice, there were 98 fatal drug overdoses in Washington County in 2017. Seventy-one of those contained fentanyl.
Because of that, Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone says the program is welcome news. He says, like most of Western Pennsylvania, there is a problem with synthetic opioids and they welcome the resources.
“Because these drugs are so deadly, and when people are addicted to them, they are driven to seek out these drugs because of their strength,” said Vittone.
Districts stretching from Pennsylvania through Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee make up the core area for the program.
“We’re going to have that emphasis placed on investigation,” said Vittone. “Trying to determine what drugs are coming in to our area, where they’re coming from and cutting off the supply chains.”
The 10 participating districts are:
- Eastern District of California
- Eastern District of Kentucky
- District of Maine
- District of New Hampshire
- Northern District of Ohio
- Southern District of Ohio
- Western District of Pennsylvania
- Eastern District of Tennessee
- Northern District of West Virginia
- Southern District of West Virginia
Sessions said the program is modeled on a successful effort in Manatee County, Florida.
“We are going to focus on some of the worst counties for opioid overdose deaths in the United States, working all cases until we have disrupted the supply of these deadly drugs,” Sessions said in a statement released Thursday.
(TM and © Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)