Opioid crisis: NKY becomes hub for drug battle

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Fort Mitchell will be the northern hub for the new Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force, Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker announced in a visit to Cincinnati Friday.

Nashville will be the southern hub, Whitaker said in a news conference at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio.

The strike force will supply extra resources to identify medical professionals prescribing the opioids and the people filling the prescriptions, he said.

“We’ve already used this Strike Force model to combat health care fraud—and it has been very successful. We want to replicate that success in the fight against the opioid epidemic," Whitaker said.

WATCH: Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker explains how the Tri-State will help federal officials increase efforts to fight the opioid epidemic. Story: bit.ly/2Pd5O77

Posted by FOX19 on Friday, November 30, 2018

Federal authorities announced the new strike force last month for the area that, like much of the U.S., has been especially hard hit by addiction and by opioid fraud.

Some of the first pill mills in America were started in southern Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia. And Appalachian communities still have tragically high rates of addiction and overdose.

This new strike force will be composed of 12 additional opioid fraud prosecutors across nine Appalachian districts and the surrounding area, according to the Justice Department.

Each one of these prosecutors will have their own team of federal investigators and law enforcement agents.

They’ll also be mobile so if a small case turns into a bigger one, then they can prosecute it in any Appalachian district they need to.

Drugs, Whitaker said, are killing more Americans than guns - a lot more.

“Nationwide in 2016, there were more than four times as many fatal drug overdoses as there were gun homicides,” he said.

His next comment were directed at his law enforcement colleagues attending the news conference: :"Your work to fight the opioid epidemic is more important than ever because today we are facing the deadliest drug crisis in our nation’s history."

Federal officials say they are prosecuting more fentanyl defendants than ever before and overdose deaths in this country may have finally stopped rising or even come down.

According to the CDC, drug overdose deaths increased on a month-by-month basis until last September.

The rolling 12-month total then decreased by 2 percent from September 2017 through April 2018, which is the most recent data federal authorities have.

“These are preliminary numbers—and we want much bigger decreases—but this is good news,” Whitaker said.

While Whitaker says the appropriate steps are being taken to try and combat the opioid crisis, he says he realizes there is still a lot more work that needs to be done and that he’s “not ever going to stop in this effort.”

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