U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new tool to fight online drug trafficking, which he called the J-CODE team. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 30 (UPI) -- To help federal agents disrupt opioid trafficking on the Internet, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday announced a new tool in the fight -- the Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement team.
During a speech in Pittsburgh Monday, Sessions said the J-CODE team will help authorities shut down online marketplaces that traffickers use.
"Criminals think that they are safe on the 'darknet,' but they are in for a rude awakening," Sessions said. "We have already infiltrated their networks and we are determined to bring them to justice."
The new federal team will use dozens of special agents and intelligence analysts to combat opioids, a substance at the center of what officials say has become the deadliest drug crisis in U.S. history.
In making the announcement, Sessions told attendees in Pittsburgh that roughly 64,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016.
"That's more than the population of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, dead in one year," he said. "And in 2017, it appears that the death toll was even higher.
"For Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death. Millions of Americans are living with the daily struggle of an addiction."
Sessions said a recent surge of violent crimes is also directly linked to opioids, with a recent study revealing that nearly a quarter of the increase in homicides is drug-related.
"Drug trafficking is an inherently violent business," he said. "If you want to collect a drug debt, you can't file a lawsuit in court. You collect it by the barrel of a gun."
As part of a crackdown on healthcare fraud in November, Sessions announced the availability of $12 million in grants, a field office and special coordinators to help in the fight against the opioid crisis.
Last summer, 120 healthcare providers were arrested and accused of opioid abuse. At the time, Sessions called it the single largest roundup of opioid-related crimes by healthcare providers in the nation's history.
Last July, one of the largest "darknet" Internet sites used to sell illegal drugs and contraband was shut down. AlphaBay housed more than 250,000 listings for illegal narcotics via cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, that help users remain anonymous. The founder of the site was arrested in Thailand.