Kamala Harris

Meeting with State Attorneys General on the Fentanyl Public Health Crisis - July 18, 2023

Kamala Harris
July 18, 2023— Washington, D.C.
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Thank you, Dr. Gupta. I thank you for all the work that you are doing to lead our White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Again, welcome to the Attorneys General of the United States. I, as you all know, was among your number — (laughter) — as Attorney General of California.

And I have nothing but thanks to each of you and the folks in your office for the work you do every day. It is critically important work. It ranges, of course, from you being the — the top law enforcement officer of your state to the work that you do around consumer protection and the work you each do in terms of using your platform in a way that is always about elevating public discourse about the critical issues of our time. So I thank you each.

I want to also recognize Secretary Perez, Tom Perez, who has come back to the White House to serve as the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. It is good to work with you as always, Tom.

So, the government, our government — be it federal, state, or local — has a very important mission. And it is, critically, to uphold the health, safety, and well-being of the people within our jurisdiction and in our country.

And so, on the issue of fentanyl and the opioid crisis, we each recognize and have joined together today because we are facing a public health crisis. And it also, therefore, is an issue that must have a response that addresses the underlying public health concerns that are both about addiction and treatment.

And we recognize that there is also a critical issue here in terms of public safety and an appropriate law enforcement response to address what we know to be trafficking and some of the motivation for the — for the passage of fentanyl throughout our country and across our borders.

So, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. It is 50 percent more potent than heroin and up to 150 percent more potent than oxycodone.

It is cheap to produce. Traffickers put fentanyl in pills that people buy online. It is basically counterfeit. They are being marketed, these pills, as though they are some other type of drug, but they are in fact laced with fentanyl. We are seeing a lot of that happen.

So, for example, people think that they are buying oxy online, and it is laced with fentanyl, and it results in their death.

We are seeing people who think they’re taking Adderall or Xanax, and again, laced with fentanyl, and results in the outcomes that we are seeing in terms of the massive number of fatalities that our country has experienced within a short period of time.

It is also important to understand the specific impact on the young people of our country. You know, there was a time where the young people of our country would go to a party and we as parents would be concerned about whether they were smoking weed or drinking alcohol underage. Now what’s happening at these parties is people are passing around pills. And these are pills that these kids may think are Adderall or Xanax, and they’re laced with fentanyl.

Now, I say this and talk about this as a parent, understanding that we must be clear and concise about the seriousness of this. And we must be clear-eyed as a nation about what is happening and the need to then take steps to keep our children safe and to be honest about what is happening.

So, part of how we are thinking about it is in the context of the fact that, right now, fentanyl is the leading cause of death among 18- through 42-year-olds in our country. The leading cause of death. Adolescent deaths doubled because of fentanyl from 2019 to 2021. Doubled.

And so, this is a growing issue. I was just meeting with three families before our convening, who each suffered the loss of a child due to overdose and due to fentanyl.

So we must address this issue, and we must address it with a sense of urgency and seriousness.

Part of the issue here is that we must expand access to treatment, including expanding access to naloxone. So, naloxone is a drug that, when administered, saves 75 to 100 percent of the lives that we have otherwise lost. We are hearing about stories about the fact that when a child can actually — or a person has access to this, it will save their life; it literally is the difference between life or death.

So, part of the conversation we are having today is how can we increase access and affordability to a lifesaving treatment, understanding that it is one of the most clear ways to prevent death.

We also understand, through our administration, what we must do to support the states in increasing federal dollars available to the states to be able to purchase this important treatment. And so, part of the work that the President and I have done is to invest billions of dollars, including record investments in naloxone and recovery services. And today, we are announcing an additional $50 million for substance use and treatment.

As a former attorney general, I also know the importance of dealing with the criminal side of this and what we must do to dismantle transnational criminal organizations and disrupt their criminal enterprises. And a lot of that is just so cliché; it’s about following the money. There are people who are making a whole lot of money off of the trafficking of these drugs.

And so, it is about thinking about the resources that our state attorneys general have, and supported by the federal government, to do the investigations and then prosecute these cases, looking at them not only in terms of simple drug trafficking, but also the enterprises that support that drug trafficking.

And that means looking, for example, at the people who are financing these operations. That means looking, for example, at the brokers, because we are talking about highly sophisticated criminal enterprises. And I can think of no one more equipped at the state level and in our country than state attorneys general to do this kind of work.

It is an interesting cross-section between the work that they do that is about being the top law enforcement officer and the work that they do that is about consumer protection.

So this is why I’ve asked them to come today. And, essentially, I will say this: There are countless people in our country who are suffering right now because of this epidemic. And it is incumbent on all of us to address it in a variety of ways that includes talking about some of the underlying issues, including the fact that we still have a long way to go in our country to accurately and appropriately talk about what substance use addiction really is. It’s a healthcare issue. We must destigmatize this issue. We must remove judgment from this issue. We must understand that most people don’t choose to have a substance abuse disorder. It is not a choice they make where they can then say “no.”

And that is one of the first steps that will be critical in ending this crisis in our country: is treating substance abuse as the healthcare issue that it is and ensuring that we have an appropriate, well-resourced public health response to the underlying issue.

So, with that, I thank you all for being here. And thank you for joining us for this important discussion.

And with that, I will bid the press a good day. Thank you all.

The White House. “Vice President Harris Meets with State Attorneys General on the Fentanyl Public Health Crisis.” YouTube video, 9:35. July 18, 2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmxhlHmtn-Y&t=1s