Opioid abuse in America has reached epidemic proportions with some 30,000 people dying a year from drug overdoses, Preet Bharara, a top US prosecutor said today as he vowed to give top priority to address the crisis.
In an opinion piece in New York Daily News, Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, recalled the recent shocking photo of an overdosed couple in a car, engine still running, with their young son strapped helplessly to his car seat in the back in East Liverpool, Ohio.
Images like these drive home just how bad the opioid abuse epidemic has gotten, the Indian-origin prosecutor writes.
Belting out statistics, Bharara says nearly 80 Americans die from opioid overdoses every day: almost 550 a week, 2,400 a month, 30,000 a year. Thirty thousand lives cut short; 30,000 families devastated; 30,000 communities scarred, every year.
"More Americans now die from overdoses than from car accidents or guns, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of overdose-related emergency room visits each year," he says.
"No matter how you measure it, opioid abuse in America has reached epidemic proportions," he says.
"My office, along with our law enforcement partners, has made confronting this crisis a top priority. In addition to our traditional prosecutions of international drug cartels and large-scale heroin dealers, we have trained our sights on those who fuel the illegal market for painkillers - a proven gateway to heroin," Bharara says.
He noted that his office recently prosecuted a Manhattan doctor who wrote more than 10,000 medically unnecessary prescriptions for close to a million oxycodone pills, making over USD 2 million in fees. He was convicted after trial, and just last month was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
"These are steps in the right direction, but they are not enough," he writes and unveiled a new initiative under which local police departments have been asked to alert the prosecutors to drug overdose deaths for potential federal prosecution.
"If we can identify the dealer who supplied the deadly drugs, he will face the grave consequences of a federal charge," Bharara says, adding that dealers who peddle poison and profit from tragic addictions should know that severe consequences await them.
"I have no illusion that prosecutions alone will get us out of this nightmare. We must reduce demand, as well as supply. We must help addicts as well as punish pushers," he says.
Bharara says that he plans to host a series of educational forums to discuss how one can work together to fight our way out of this deadly epidemic.