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Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced that the Justice Department will focus on “health care fraud and opioid scams” by implementing a pilot program that sends federal prosecutors across cities most affected by addiction and overdoses. Sessions made the announcement in a speech Wednesday in Ohio, where eight people die each day from unintentional overdoses, according to ABC. Meanwhile, he remains a vocal opponent of one of its most proven treatments: medical marijuana.
From 1997 to 2014, the hospitalization rates of people suffering from painkiller abuse dropped 23 percent in states where medical marijuana was legalized, according to researchers from the University of California San Diego. Ninety-two percent of pain patients prefer cannabis over opioids and the rate of mariajuana-related hospitalizations has been unaffected by legalization. Yet Sessions insists there is “more violence around marijuana than one would think,” even as experts have found otherwise. He also says smoking pot is “an unhealthy practice” that should be punished like heroin and cocaine use.
“In recent years, some of the government officials in our country have mistakenly sent mixed messages about the harmfulness of drugs,” Sessions said, likely referring to the legalization of marijuana around the country. “So let me say: We cannot capitulate intellectually or morally unto this kind of rampant drug abuse. We must create a culture that’s hostile to drug abuse.”
Democratic officials remain skeptical. If Republicans succeed in repealing the Affordable Care Act, “it will likely make the opioid epidemic worse,” DNC spokeswoman Mandy McClure told the Washington Post.
Criminal justice advocates also fear that the attorney general’s aggressive tactics might crowd federal prisons with inmates serving longer sentences, unraveling an Obama-era policy that sought to combat excessive jailing and focus on rehabilitation. The legalization of medical marijuana was a step in that direction.
Sessions has likened his programs to past campaign against tobacco use, which he says, “took time” and “became effective.” The “opioid fraud and abuse detection unit” will purportedly use data analytics to uncover pill mills and “focus specifically on opioid-related health care fraud using data to identify and prosecute key individuals that are contributing to this opioid epidemic.”
Sessions has warned doctors and pharmacists who are “letting these pills walk out the door and onto the streets” that “we are coming after you.”