U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions equated the opioid epidemic to a personal failing by many Americans who cannot “say no” to drugs on Thursday, and he said that marijuana could be serving as a gateway to the problem.
“People should say no to drug use. They have got to protect themselves first,” he said during a question-and-answer session at the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington.
Sessions made his comments ahead of President Donald Trump’s declaration that the opioid crisis a public health emergency, a move that will redirect federal resources to help combat the problem.
Sessions said he was extremely troubled by the epidemic, saying it has led to more overdose deaths than the height of the AIDS public health crisis in the 1980s.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were responsible for more than 33,000 U.S. deaths in 2015.
The Justice Department has stepped up enforcement efforts to combat the problem.
Earlier on Thursday, the Justice Department announced it had secured an indictment against a Pittsburgh-based doctor for unlawfully distributing opioids, in the first case of its kind to be brought since Sessions launched an Opioid Abuse and Detection unit.
But in response to a question about how best to combat the epidemic, Sessions cast the problem in a moral light.
“I do think that this whole country needs to not be so lackadaisical about drugs,” he said.
In urging people to say no to drugs, his comments channeled former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who famously launched a “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign when the crack cocaine epidemic was ravaging communities in the 1980s.
Her husband, President Ronald Reagan, during his tenure signed into law a sweeping criminal justice bill that established mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, including marijuana.
Sessions said on Thursday that “fentanyl people are really killers,” but did not clarify to whom he was specifically referring. He also said that he has heard from many police chiefs that drug addiction “starts with marijuana.”
Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate that is up to 50 times more lethal than heroin.
Michael Correia, the government relations director for the National Cannabis Industry Association, said Sessions is ill-informed and pointed to data showing many of the overdoses involve prescription painkillers.
According to the CDC, nearly half of all the opioid overdose deaths in the United States in 2015 involved prescription medications.
Correia said Sessions “is still repeating the old, tired argument that marijuana is a gateway when there is a lot of evidence that proves otherwise.”
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler)
GOP in a panic about what to do with Steve King as Democrats can’t wait to face him in the election
On Saturday, MSNBC's Garrett Haake broke down the nightmare situation Republicans are facing with Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who has faced outrage for years of white supremacist comments, and more recently suggested that rape and incest might be a good thing for society.
"What more recourse do Republicans have?" said host David Gura. "We had this cycle of condemnation in the past after comments were made. He was stripped of committee assignments. Is there more Republicans can do vis-a-vis Steve King?"
Trump’s economic advisers baffled over how to hold off recession that his trade war set it in motion: report
According to a report from ABC, Donald Trump's economic advisers are baffled about how to stop what appears to be a recession coming before the 2020 election after his trade war upset an already teetering worldwide economy.
With the report noting that Trump had hoped to run on a strong economy as part of his 2020 re-election strategy, warnings from economists that a recession may arrive before then has White House officials in a panic.
"The financial markets signaled the possibility of a U.S. recession this week, sending a jolt of anxiety to investors, companies and consumers. That's on top of concerns over Trump's plans to impose punishing tariffs on goods from China and word from the United Kingdom and Germany that their economies are shrinking," the report states, adding, "Trump advisers fear a weakened economy would hurt him with moderate Republican and independent voters who have been willing to give him a pass on some his incendiary policies and rhetoric."
Race to remember Berlin Wall victims, 30 years on
Where guard towers and barbed wire once stood, runners pounded the 100-mile (160 kilometer) path along the former Berlin Wall this weekend in a race with victims of the Cold War relic at its heart.
On Saturday at 6:00 am (0400 GMT), around 500 runners, started the 8th edition of the Berlin Wall Race, ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Wall's demise this November.
With weary legs, most runners will jog through Saturday night, aiming to reach the city centre stadium which doubles as both start and finish, in the early hours of Sunday.
The race is part ultra-marathon, part tribute to those who died trying to cross the Wall, which the East German communist regime hastily erected in 1961 and stood for 28 years.