Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday called drug overdose deaths "the top lethal issue" in the U.S. and urged law enforcement and social workers to "create and foster a culture that's hostile to drug use."
Sessions spoke to the annual conference of the National Alliance For Drug Endangered Children. He said preliminary data show nearly 60,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2016, the highest ever.
"Our current drug epidemic is indeed the deadliest in American history. We've seen nothing like it," said Sessions.
He highlighted Department of Justice efforts to curb opioid abuse, including a pilot program announced Aug. 2 to send 12 federal prosecutors to cities ravaged by addiction to investigate health care fraud and opioid scams.
At one point he accused Hollywood, the media and government officials for sending "mixed messages about the harmfulness of drugs." He didn't name any government officials.
"This is not acceptable," Sessions said. "We must not capitulate, intellectually or morally, to drug use. We must create and foster a culture that's hostile to drug use."
In May, Sessions reversed an effort from the Obama-era Justice Department that called on federal prosecutors to rein in the use of long, mandatory minimum sentences for some drug criminals to focus resources elsewhere. Sessions is now directing prosecutors to pursue the toughest punishments against most suspects.