Rod Rosenstein announces indictments of Chinese fentanyl traffickers

Last Updated Oct 17, 2017 10:38 AM EDT

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and other law enforcement officials held a press conference to announce a major milestone to stop deadly fentanyl and other opiate substances from entering the United States as part of the administration's ongoing effort to curb the opioid epidemic. 

Rosenstein announced two separate indictments of Chinese nationals that were acting as traffickers, using the Internet and dark web to sell fentanyl and fentanyl analogues to drug traffickers and individual customers in the United States. 

The Deputy AG said the nationals were engaged in conspiracies to distribute large quantities of the drug. The defendants, however, remain innocent until proven guilty in a court, Rosenstein noted.

Investigators had found that one of the defendants had operated at least two chemical plants in China capable of producing fentanyl products at "tons at a time."

Rosenstein said the DOJ is now working in conjunction with their Chinese counterparts to help combat other potential fentanyl labs, saying there is a commitment to continue those efforts overseas. 

While the Deputy AG said currently there's no extradition treaty with China, he's hopeful the Chinese will take appropriate action with regard to properly charging the traffickers.

In light of the indictments, Rosenstein said President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have "made it a priority for us to combat this opioid crisis," adding that the "DOJ is playing a leading role in those efforts."

Acting DEA administrator Robert Patterson echoed those sentiments, saying unfortunately the "American public has a general awareness of this problem." 

"I challenge all of us to look beyond statistics and focus on individuals behind those numbers," he said, adding, "The path of opioids abuse once taken often always ends in tragedy, we can not continue on this path."

The remarks came after President Trump announced on Tuesday that his nominee for drug czar, Rep. Tom Marino, withdrew his name from consideration for the position.

"Rep.Tom Marino has informed me that he is withdrawing his name from consideration as drug czar," Mr. Trump said. "Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!"

The announcement came following a joint investigation by CBS' "60 Minutes" and The Washington Post on the opioid crisis. They found that the opioid crisis was allowed to spread -- aided by Congress, lobbyists, and a drug distribution industry that shipped, almost unchecked, hundreds of millions of pills to rogue pharmacies and pain clinics, fuelling a crisis that, over the last two decades, has claimed 200,000 lives.    

The President's Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and Opioid Crisis, chaired by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, has a deadline of November 1 for its final report on the epidemic and recommendations it will pass along to the drug industry, with the objective of innovating pain management and addiction prevention measures.

Follow along for live updates below:


Rosenstein: Seeking additional support from China in cracking down of labs

Rosenstein said the DOJ is working in conjunction with their Chinese counterparts to help combat potential fentanyl labs, saying there is a commitment to continue those efforts overseas. 

The Deputy AG said currently there's no extradition treaty with China but he's hopeful the Chinese will take appropriate action with regard the traffickers.

DEA: Top priority is combatting opioid abuse 

Acting administrator Robert Patterson said unfortunately the "American public has a general awareness of this problem." 

"I challenge all of us to look beyond statistics and focus on individuals behind those numbers," he said, adding "The path of opioids abuse once taken often always ends in tragedy, we can not continue on this path."

Rosenstein: Fentanyl sold in many forms all of which are potentially deadly

The Deputy AG said many users have no idea what comprises their drug, making it extremely deadly.

He said that the U.S is working closely with Chinese colleagues to stem the flow of fentanyl into the U.S.

Rosenstein: Bitcoin used in purchasing drugs

In a second case, Rosenstein said the dark web was used to facilitate drug purchases that investigators were able to intercept. 

Chinese nationals indicted in fentanyl case

Rosenstein said the nationals were engaged in conspiracies to distribute large quantities of the drug. The defendants remain innocent until proven guilty in a court, said the Deputy AG.

Investigators had found that one of the defendants had operated at least two chemical plants in China capable of producing fentanyl products at "tons at a time."

Rosenstein talks fentanyl impacts

The president and Attorney General made it a priority for us to combat this opioid crisis," said Rosentein, adding the "DOJ is playing a leading role in those efforts."

Rosenstein set to announce efforts in fighting opioid epidemic

Ahead of the Deputy Attorney General's remarks, the DOJ is announcing indictments against two "major" Chinese fentanyl traffickers who have been using the Internet to sell fentanyl and fentanyl analogues to drug traffickers and individual customers in the United States, CBS News' Paula Reid reports.

Rosenstein is expected to expand on the indictment at Tuesday's press event, it is unclear if the traffickers have been arrested or detained. 

 

  • Emily Tillett

    Emily Tillett is a politics reporter and video editor for CBS News Digital