U.S. Attorney Stuart announces decline in opioid-related deaths thanks to increased prosecution


Citing statistics in 10 American counties where overdose deaths have declined, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia Mike Stuart announced that Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge (S.O.S) is reducing overdose deaths through increased prosecution.

Operation S.O.S aimed at reducing the supply of synthetic opioids in 10 areas across the country by identifying wholesale distribution networks for international and domestic suppliers. To do this, the U.S. Attorneys in 10 districts with some of the highest drug overdose death rates in the country each targeted a specific county in their jurisdiction where they would focus on prosecuting every readily available case involving fentanyl, fentanyl analogues, and other synthetic opioids, regardless of the amount.

Since its inception in July 2018, the operation appears to have had an impact, officials said.

“Operation S.O.S is saving lives,” Stuart said. “We have made great strides in the fight against the opioid epidemic that once ravaged Cabell County. Through prosecution of fentanyl dealers, combined with efforts in prevention, intervention, and treatment, a 52 percent reduction in opioid-related overdose deaths has been realized in the County from 2017 to 2019.”

According to Stuart’s office, in 2017, Cabell County recorded 184 opioid-related deaths. In 2019, they recorded 88 opioid-related deaths.

Nationally, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said Operation SOS has resulted in an estimated 750 defendants being charged in federal court, 384 of them in 2020. The DOJ said those districts participating in the program have seen a decline in opioid overdoses of between 14 and 24 percent. In the Western District of Pennsylvania

Nationally, since 2018, Operation SOS has resulted in approximately 750 defendants being charged in federal court, with 384 of those defendants charged thus far in FY 20. Most importantly, the districts participating in the program have seen a decline in opioid overdoses. From 2017 to 2019, most SOS counties reported a decline of 14 percent to 24 percent. One notable success was in the Western District of Pennsylvania, where the opioid overdose rates declined by nearly 45 percent.

In Pennsylvania, the U.S. Attorney there has prosecuted 98 SOS cases so far in 2020, including the prosecution of Lynell Guyton. A jury convicted Guyton of conspiracy to distribute 100 grams of cyclopropyl fentanyl and other fentanyl analogues, which he received from China. During the execution of a search warrant in connection to the case, Guyton and some of his conspirators tipped over a table, sending cyclopropyl fentanyl into the air, sickening several law enforcement officers on the scene.

“The Justice Department’s commitment to fighting the opioids epidemic is stronger than ever, and we are using every tool in our arsenal to disrupt the supply of these drugs on our streets,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen. “Operation S.O.S has had a significant positive impact on the communities where it is being employed. The Department will continue to build on these successes and work to stop the drug traffickers who so callously wreck lives.”