Opioid crisis remains top law enforcement priority, U.S. Attorney says

Opioid crisis remains top law enforcement priority, U.S. Attorney says

BOSTON — The opioid epidemic is creating a massive public health crisis and is forcing law enforcement to find new ways to fight back.

Wrapping up his first year in office, Boston U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling met with reporters in an open-ended roundtable Wednesday, identifying the opioid crisis as a top law enforcement priority.

Lelling said last year across the country, nearly 20,000 Americans died from overdoses related to prescription medication.

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Here in Massachusetts, the U.S. Attorney sent letters to doctors whose patients died from an overdose within 60 days of writing a prescription. He says the letters are a reminder and a warning.

"The point of the letters was to essentially use the authority of my office to remind prescribers that they need to be very careful of what is in this day and age literally a deadly substance," said Lelling.

Recently, a Middlesex County grand jury indicted a Dracut doctor on a manslaughter charge for the overdose death of a patient. Authorities allege the doctor prescribed large amounts of fentanyl, morphine, and codeine, which led to the patient's death.

On the federal level, the U.S. Attorney said he hopes that case and his letter will be an important wake-up call.

"The letter is a reminder to take a close look at your prescribing practices to make sure you're doing it the right way," said Lelling.

This week, the state's third adult use marijuana facility will open in Salem and while marijuana has been legalized in Massachusetts, it remains a banned substance on the federal level. That creates a unique legal situation and Lelling said his top concern is to stop people from dying from opioids. He said marijuana is not his priority, but he was quick to add that doesn't mean his office won't prosecute people selling pot.