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Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks about the indictments of a large fentanyl drug traffic ring last week during a speech at the Quentin N. Burdick United States Courthouse in Fargo.

David Samson

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ visit to Fargo last week was intended to keep the war on drugs in the spotlight. The campaign against the deadly trafficking in drugs has been going on for some time.

Sessions announced two indictments involving an international opioid-dealing ring that reached into North Dakota. An investigation into the overdose death of Bailey Henek, 18, in Grand Forks in January 2015 resulted in an indictment involving conspiracy to distribute drugs and conspiracy to import drugs. It’s obvious drug dealers have a long reach and a state like North Dakota with a small population still remains an attractive target. The indictments involved suspects from China, Canada and the U.S.

The users, the people buying the drugs, aren’t just high school or college kids looking to get high. They are often people with steady jobs in their 30s and 40s who can afford drugs for recreational purposes. They should also know better because the consequences can be dire. In the last few months there have been a number of stories in the Tribune about local residents who have died from overdoses or been revived by Narcan. Drug overdose deaths tripled in North Dakota between 2013 and 2016, going from 20 to 77, according to Gov. Doug Burgum. There’s no reason to believe those numbers have dropped since 2016.

President Donald Trump has declared the opioid crisis a national health emergency as newer drugs like fentanyl spread across the country. During his Fargo stop, Sessions described the drug problem as an epidemic. Nearly 64,000 people died due to drug overdoses in 2016, he said, with fentanyl killing 20,000 people that year. Opioids, like prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl, have been driving the epidemic.

Law enforcement has been working to get suppliers off the street, but that will be hard to accomplish as long as the demand exists. Changing the culture where drug use is tolerated in many social circles may be a bigger challenge than stopping the dealers.

The governor and first lady’s efforts with Recovery Reinvented deserve praise and support. The educational aspects of the program could help persuade some people not to try drugs and others to try to quit. It’s going to take programs at the local and state level to overcome the drug problem. It means getting the message across in schools, churches and the workplace. We need to do a better job of rehabbing people going through our justice system. The Tribune has noted in previous editorials the importance of court and prison programs in helping people overcome addictions.

The drug war may seem hopeless at times, but we are making progress.

Sessions’ announcement shows law enforcement can catch the big dealers. Those breaking the law know they risk doing prison time.

And North Dakota has shown the willingness to change its approach to combatting the drug problem. There’s more focus on treatment and recovery for users and less on jail time. First responders are saving lives through the use of Narcan, sometimes while putting their health at risk.

It’s not a hopeless situation, however, there’s no quick solution. It’s going to take patience and determination on the part of everyone. In some ways it may be endless. We can make major progress, but getting rid of all drugs may be too difficult.

You can end an epidemic without getting rid of the disease.