Attorney General Jeff Sessions and United States Attorney Halsey B. Frank have 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 ten districts with some of the highest drug overdose death rates, including the District of Maine. In Maine, in 2016, there were 376 drug-induced deaths; in 2017, there were 418 drug-induced deaths.   In Cumberland County, a county with a population of about 280,000, in 2016, there were 78 drug-induced overdose deaths, including 68 opioid-related deaths; in 2017, there were 109 drug-induced overdose deaths, including 94 opioid-related deaths.

Each participating United States Attorney’s Office (USAO) 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 insure 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, Florida.

“As is much of the rest of the country, Maine is in the midst of a crisis in which people are dying from opioid overdoses at an alarming rate in large part due to the increasing availability and potency of synthetic opioids like fentanyl,” U.S. Attorney Frank said. “In addition, Maine is seeing more of the violence that too often attends drug use and property crimes, such as shoplifting, committed to fund drug habits.  Addressing this crisis requires all segments of society to engage, and my office will continue to work with representatives of the prevention, treatment, and recovery communities.  As the chief federal law enforcement officer in Maine, however, my primary responsibility is to enforce the law.  I am grateful that the Department is giving us additional resources to do so in the area of synthetic drug enforcement.  I am hopeful that we will be able to use those resources to reduce the supply of opioids that are coming from communities outside of Maine, killing Mainers, and causing untold collateral consequences.  We are starting the effort in Cumberland County because it has the highest absolute number of overdose deaths of any county in Maine.”

The ten participating districts are:

District of Maine

District of New Hampshire

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

Eastern District of California

Western District of Pennsylvania

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