Global Conference

Collaborating to Tackle the Opioid Crisis

By Sean Fearns

While the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is first and foremost a law enforcement agency, the nationwide opioid crisis has created a new reality in which we find ourselves at a nexus between public safety and public health. DEA is a prime example of the alignment between these two traditionally disparate fields, as it not only continues to fight the flow of illegal substances into the U.S., but also actively works to prevent drug abuse from negatively affecting our nation’s individuals, families, schools, workplaces, and communities.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has asserted that tackling the opioid epidemic is going to require partnerships among federal, state, and local organizations, ranging from the business community to law enforcement. Recognizing that new ideas and approaches are necessary for the fight against the opioid crisis, DEA continues to collaborate with national and statewide organizations, as well as its federal partners, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Food and Drug Administration, and U.S. Department of Education.

Since 2015, the DEA’s three-pronged 360 Strategy[1] was implemented in 10 pilot cities, with an expansion into four additional cities this year. The 360 Strategy involves three components: law enforcement, diversion control, and community outreach, all of which play important roles. DEA intentionally examines available national and local data that document where the highest prevalence of opioid misuse and overdoses occur. By paying critical attention to those data points, it becomes clear which cities are being hit hardest by the opioid crisis and therefore enables DEA to target its efforts.

DEA’s community outreach and prevention support efforts are built around three long-standing prevention principles: local people solve local problems best, people support what they help create, and science matters. DEA believes involving local stakeholders is vital to prevent future drug-related violent crime following enforcement actions in the nation’s communities. It's this thoughtful collaboration that will bring the resources and interventions needed for the results we all want to see. Furthermore, by staying abreast of current trends and technology, all stakeholders have the ability to reach target audiences with appropriate drug prevention messages through a variety of mechanisms, including websites and social media platforms.

Thoughtful collaboration will bring the resources and interventions needed for the results we all want to see.

In addition to the 360 Strategy, DEA has partnered with Discovery Education to develop Operation Prevention,[2] an education approach based in science. With a goal of changing public perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors among youth in particular, Operation Prevention provides a free comprehensive program to schools to educate students and offers prevention resources to their parents, caregivers, and educators. The program’s mission is to help students understand how addiction starts, the development of their brains, and the impact of opioid misuse. The resources are intended to kick-start lifesaving conversations at home and in the classroom. Since its launch in 2016, Operation Prevention has reached more than 2.5 million students nationwide. 

Due to the magnitude of the opioid epidemic, DEA recognizes that the progress made thus far is simply the tip of the iceberg. Surgeon General Adams said, “This is a national problem that has taken decades to come to pass. It’s going to take all of us on deck if we’re going to tackle it.”[3]

Decades of prevention science and best practices confirm that collaboration is critical across disciplines and organizations, at the federal, national, state, and local levels. By joining forces and uniting our ideas, perspectives, and efforts, we will achieve significant progress in turning the tide against the opioid crisis gripping our nation. DEA stands ready to work with you in doing this.

Written By:

Sean Fearns

Sean Fearns
Chief of Community Outreach, DEA