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U.S. Attorney General Talks Opioid Crisis: 'Take Some Aspirin'

Attorney General Jeff Sessions talked about the nation's opioid crisis at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa Wednesday.
Stephanie Colombini
WUSF Public Media
Attorney General Jeff Sessions talked about the nation's opioid crisis at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa Wednesday.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in Tampa Wednesday talking about efforts to combat the nation's opioid crisis.

As he addressed a crowd of prosecutors and police officers at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida, Sessions offered his opinion for preventing addiction.

“I believe – and I am operating under the assumption – that this country prescribes too many opioids,” he said. “I mean people need to take some aspirin sometimes and tough it out a little.”

Some people in the crowd laughed. Sessions then imitated Gen. John Kelly, President Trump’s chief of staff, whom the attorney general said refused to take pain medication after a recent surgery on his hand.

“He said, ‘I’m not taking any drugs!’” said Sessions. “It did hurt though, he did admit it hurt. But a lot of people, you can get through these things.”

Sessions said stopping addiction before it starts is the most important element in the nation’s fight against opioids.

He outlined ways the federal Drug Enforcement Agency is working to curb addiction. Sessions said the DEA announced earlier this week that the agency will now ask individual practitioners applying for licenses or renewing their licenses whether they have received continuing education on prescribing and dispensing opioids.

“DEA can ensure that doctors have the CDC’s latest guidance on opioid prescribing so they don’t accidently over-prescribe,” Sessions said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and some members of the state legislature are pushing for a three-day cap on opioid prescriptions, and a seven-day cap when medically necessary.

But opponents of the bill, including many physicians, say those limits are unreasonable for people in intense pain, like those recovering from major surgery.

While Florida has cracked down on pill mills notorious for pumping out unnecessary prescription drugs, the state is still one of the hardest hit by the opioid crisis.

During his remarks in Tampa, Sessions suggested the rise in fentanyl sold on the streets is to blame.

“Fentanyl-related deaths [in Florida] jumped 97 percent [from 2015-2016],” he said. “So the driving factor, you can see in Florida maybe more than in the nation, is fentanyl.”

Sessions told members of law enforcement in the audience that as of Tuesday, all fentanyl-related substances would become scheduled on an emergency basis by the DEA.

"Fentanyl is the No.1 killer in America,” he said. “Scheduling and restricting all forms of this drug will make it easier for you and your agents to prosecute drug traffickers."

Over the summer, Sessions deemed central Florida one of 12 opioid "hot spots" in America. That led to the appointment of Kelly Howard-Allen, who has been with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa for more than 15 years, as the area’s “opioid fraud prosecutor.”

Howard-Allen will focus solely on investigating and prosecuting opioid-related health care fraud. Sessions said her new position allowed the office in Tampa to hire another assistant U.S. attorney, Greg Pizzo.

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Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.