In response to the announcement of the opioid epidemic in the United States, U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions has besieged each state to appoint an attorney to the opioid coordinator role. In the wake of the opioid crisis in San Diego, they have assigned two.
By using criminal and civil law in the battle against San Diego’s opioid crisis, Assistant U.S. Attorney Linda Frakes, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Dylan Aste plan to stomp out the onslaught of overdose deaths the city has been facing.
The Death Toll
While the opioid crisis in San Diego is not the worst in the country, they still rank high on the average death toll annually from opioid-related deaths. In California alone, they are ranked the 24th out of 58 total counties for their death toll, and lawmakers have taken notice.
According to the California Opioid Overdose Surveillance Dashboard:
- There were 239 opioid overdose deaths in 2016 in San Diego alone
- Excluding heroin, there were 353 opioid overdoses resulting in ER visits
- The most common ages of death ranged from 25-29 years old, and 55-65 years old
- In 2016 alone, there were 1,840,700 opioid prescriptions filed in San Diego County, that is 521 pills for every 1,000 people.
- In the state of California, there were 23,684,377 opioid prescriptions filled in 2016 – there were just over 39 million people living in the state during that year.
- Pine Valley in San Diego County, which lies right next to the border of Mexico, ranked the worst in the county, with over 140 deaths for every 100,000 people.
- A recent study reported that the opioid crisis in San Diego and the rest of the U.S. cost the country over $115 billion in 2017.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions
As of February 27th of this year, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions made an announcement about the White House’s new approaches to combating the opioid epidemic.
He announced the creation and implementation of the Prescription Interdiction and Litigation Task Force, or the PIL Task Force. Their main objective? The diversion and overprescription of opioid painkillers. They will primarily focus on opioid manufacturers and medical professionals who are guilty of overprescribing and overselling these dangerous opioid medications.
Before that, the government has been working on tracking down illegal online prescription marketplaces and shutting them down.
They have created multiple teams and units devoted solely to the objective of preventing to the flow of heroin and fentanyl across the U.S. border, and have arrested multiple conspirators of Chinese nationals and North American traffickers for the importation and distribution of deadly fentanyl.
In November of 2017, Sessions ordered each of the 94 US Attorney offices to designate an opioid coordinator to customize the program for each community. Enter, the San Diego opioid Crisis Team, Linda Frakes, and Dylan Aste.
Keeping Drugs off the Streets
Assistant U.S. Attorney Linda Frakes is the third highest ranking prosecutor in the office. Her main objective as a part of this task force is to focus on criminal networks that are either importing or distributing drugs such as fentanyl and heroin into the San Diego area.
Her focus will primarily be on border patrol and the postal service, in addition to illegal internet vendors that can ship opioids through the mail. Just last year, a global task force working with INTERPOL confiscated over $51 million in illegal prescription medications from dark web online pharmacies.
She has previously focused and been the supervisor of groups such as the Criminal Enterprises section, that was responsible for monitoring and stopping criminal groups that crossed the U.S. border.
Keeping Prescribers Liable
In control of civil prosecutions against medical professionals who are practicing unsafe prescribing techniques is Assistant U.S. Attorney Dylan Aste. Experienced in handling cases of fraud in the pharmaceutical world, Aste is working to target illegal prescribing practices against medical professionals in the San Diego County area, as well as encouraging and creating reform for the diversion of opioid medications.
Aste has won settlements against pharmaceutical companies in the past, resulting in settlements of over $1 million. These cases were against companies who were found guilty of maintaining proper records of their distributions and sales, as well as for not diverting these medications in a legal manner. Meaning, they were not warning medical professionals of the dangers of these medications and recommending alternative options.
Opioid Crisis San Diego
As painful as it is to admit it, reports show that the border between the United States and Mexico has been one of the worst smuggling and trafficking areas for fentanyl. Over the last year, entry point seizures of the drug increased by over 266 percent. In 2016, 260 kilograms were confiscated, whereas, in 2017, 952 kilograms were confiscated from cross-border criminal groups.
This could be one of the main reasons why overdose rates and the opioid crisis in San Diego is so extreme. In the city of San Diego, in 2016, over 239 overdose deaths were blamed on opioid medications.
Most people who begin their addiction to opioid prescription pills, often find that they eventually are led to harder street drugs such as heroin and fentanyl, as they are often cheaper and more powerful.
The U.S. Attorneys in charge of the Taskforce are aimed at stopping the opioid crisis in San Diego from both fronts and time will tell if their methods are successful.