United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions has declared an all-out war on any and all opioids, including its analogs.
It all began by taking down darknet markets and their administrators, which saw the fall of large markets like AlphaBay and Hansa last year.
But, it never brought about the desired outcome since most users only shifted to other more decentralized markets following the shutdowns.
During a recent press conference in Cleveland, Ohio, Sessions addressed the U.S.’s opioid epidemic and presented his plans and that of the Department of Justice in efforts to combat the nationwide drug problem.
Justice Department Targets Manufacturers & Distributors in a Push to Curb the Opioid Epidemic
Sessions announced that in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Special Agents, Diversion Investigators and Intelligence Research Specialists, they are targeting crooked doctors and pharmacists, and every pharmaceutical company, every chairperson and foreign national and company in a bid to turn the tide of the opioid epidemic.
This effort includes the formation of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit in August of last year, which is a program that analyzes data collected each year from prescription drug manufacturers and distributors.
The data includes distribution figures and inventory of prescription drugs which they would then use to identify and prosecute individuals who are fueling the opioid epidemic.
Along with this program came Sessions’ added proposal for a policy change affecting drug production limits for pharmaceutical companies.
To reinstate the Department of Justice’s commitment, Sessions presented significant crackdowns at a recent news conference in Cleveland, the most notable and the biggest being the takedown of a couple, Matthew and Holly Roberts, from San Antonio, Texas under Operation Darkness Falls in April.
The duo was referred to as the most prolific fentanyl vendors in the U.S. and possibly the fourth most prolific in the world.
Under the moniker “MH4Life,” they were able to sell drugs on different darknet sites between the years of 2011 to 2018.
The second notable takedown is that of the Department of Justice obtaining restraining orders against two doctors, Gregory Gerber and Michael Tricaso, in Ohio—preventing them from issuing prescriptions.
Gerber, a doctor in Sandusky, Ohio, allegedly was paid $175,000 over the course of three years from the pharmaceutical manufacturer Insys Therapeutics to promote a liquid product of fentanyl commonly used to treat pain among cancer patients.
He’s also accused of illegally prescribing oxycodone, dronabinol, and alprazolam (Xanax) to an undercover operative without performing the required medical examination.
Tricaso is accused of selling steroids and Percocet to a man without any medical need for the drugs. The man ended up being an informant for the DEA.
The other notable takedowns are of Bin Wang, a chemist from Boston, Massachusetts, and Leroy Steele and Sabrina Robinson, two fentanyl distributors in Akron, Ohio.
Wang, a Chinese native and Canadian citizen, pleaded guilty in a federal court in Akron to buying and distributing fentanyl and other drugs from China to drug users across the U.S.
He faces a possible sentence of up to 71 months in federal prison and may be deported after he serves the sentence.
Steele is serving a 20-year prison term while Robinson, his girlfriend, is serving 10 years in connection to the overdose deaths of two individuals in Akron.
Steele and Robinson pleaded guilty last year to buying and distributing drugs in the U.S. from suppliers in China.
During investigations of the two above cases, prosecutors found out that both cases lead to the same distributor in China.
A few weeks ago, Sessions announced that a 43-count indictment had been filed against Fujing Zheng and his father, Guanghua Zheng, purported to be the Chinese distributor.
Both are being charged of using several companies to manufacture and ship opioid analogs and 250 additional drugs to 37 states in the U.S.
They also used numerous websites with more than 35 languages to sell the drugs across 25 countries from 2008 to date.
Is the Opioid Crackdown Working?
Unfortunately, the prosecutions—around 200 doctors and 220 medical personnel for drug crimes since January of 2017—has done little to reduce the number of Americans addicted to opioids.
In turn, it has resulted in devastating consequences to hundreds of chronic pain patients who rely on opioid prescriptions.
Additionally, recent developments have shown that restrictions on drug prescriptions only cause darknet opioid sales to increase.
During his campaign, President Donald Trump vowed to combat the opioid crisis, setting a goal that would see the number of prescriptions issued reduced by one-third over the next three years.
Nonetheless, the toll of overdoses continues to increase with an estimated 5 to 10 million Americans addicted to opioids and over 200,000 deaths as a result of an overdose on both illegal and prescribed opioid painkillers, as well as heroin and fentanyl in the last decade.
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