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'We're Losing 43,000 People Each Year': DEA Chief Focuses On Overdoses


Let's take a look now at the man who has taken over a U.S. federal agency that will be keenly interested in this drug lord's whereabouts, the Drug Enforcement Administration. When Chuck Rosenberg took the top job at the DEA two months ago, the longtime prosecutor had a reputation as Mr. Fix It. The DEA has had a rough time lately, including scandals, like agents at sex parties financed by drug cartels. But it was something else that really took his breath away as he tells NPR's Carrie Johnson in his first interview since taking over.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Not much surprises a man who's put spies and kidnappers and murderers behind bars, but Chuck Rosenberg says this did.

CHUCK ROSENBERG: Probably the most shocking thing to me was the number of people that die every day in the United States from a drug overdose. I knew there was a problem. I knew it was big. I didn't know it was 120 people a day.

JOHNSON: Rosenberg says heroin and opiates are mostly to blame, and the damage is reaching people in every demographic.

ROSENBERG: We're losing 43,000 people each year, and that's more than the number of people who die in a car accident or who die from firearms.

JOHNSON: Nine weeks into his new role as acting administrator at the DEA, Rosenberg's trying to focus his workforce on the biggest threats, special agents and employees stationed all over the world, 67 different countries.

ROSENBERG: We're attacking supply abroad. We're attacking demand domestically. I think one without the other is foolish.

JOHNSON: Rosenberg says he's soon going to be delivering a message to the American people in the form of a drug take-back program that's been dormant.

ROSENBERG: We need you to clean out your medicine cabinet. We need you to give us the stuff in your medicine cabinet that can hurt you or your loved ones. More to come, but we're going to revive that program, and we're going to do it in every state in the country.

JOHNSON: The acting DEA chief has already visited nine field offices, and late last week, more than 100 DEA employees piled into an auditorium at headquarters to hear their new leader for the first time. They soon found out that despite all his titles - former U.S. attorney, former justice and FBI official - Rosenberg is not a formal guy.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He keeps insisting that everyone calls him Chuck. Mr. Rosenberg, that's going to be difficult for us to do.

ROSENBERG: Yeah, I insist because that's actually my name.


JOHNSON: Rosenberg told workers he wanted them to be kind, be fair and to be just.


ROSENBERG: If you're here, I know two things about you. At least I think I know two things about you. Number one, you're not here for the money, OK? If you're here for the money, I got news for you, or a subpoena, I guess.


ROSENBERG: And you're here to do justice.

JOHNSON: He says that means admitting mistakes and fixing them. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.