“It’s a tremendous threat to us; it’s something we’ve never seen before,” Sessions said in opening remarks at the one-day meeting at Southcom headquarters.
Sessions said 52,000 people in the United States died of overdoses in 2015. The number of overdoses in the United States rose to 64,000 in 2016, he said, noting the biggest part of the surge was from opioids.
The Centers for Disease Control and Preventionreported that opioids — including heroin, fentanyl and prescription opioids — killed more than 42,000 people in 2016. The CDC says that is more than any year on record.
“We all have got to think better,” Sessions urged, noting that President Donald J. Trump has declared the issue a national health emergency. The nation’s average life expectancy has declined, Sessions said, adding that the leading cause of death for people under 50 in the United States is drug overdose.
Southcom commander Navy Adm. Kurt W. Tidd described the opioid crisis as “one of the most dangerous problems facing our nation.”
The crisis challenges traditional methods of dealing with threats and spans many organizational boundaries, Tidd told the forum, which included multiagency representation in public health, law enforcement and justice.
“I hope this summit will act as a catalyst to jumpstart future collaboration and synchronization as we move forward,” he said.
Southcom is one of many stakeholders involved in addressing the crisis, he said, adding he was proud to host diverse representation of agencies, leaders and experts.
Multi-Agency Approach to Crisis
Attendees included representatives from the U.S. departments of Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, State and Treasury. The officials considered approaches to strengthen the nation’s collective response and define holistic strategies supporting Trump’s call to action in the national health emergency.
The 2018 national drug control budget, which funds federal agencies tasked with reducing the demand and supply of illicit and illegally consumed drugs in the United States, has set a priority to reverse the sharp increase in heroin-involved deaths and an emerging increase in deaths involving synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)