Episode 99: Susan A. Gibson, Special Agent in Charge, DEA
Susan A. Gibson, Special Agent in Charge, DEA
In this episode, Karen visits with Susan A. Gibson, Special Agent In Charge (SAC) of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New Jersey Division. SAC Gibson is here to talk about the DEA’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, an event that aims to provide a safe, convenient, and anonymous means of disposing of prescription drugs.
Susan A. Gibson Biography
Ms. Susan A. Gibson is the Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's New Jersey Division. Ms. Gibson's strong and diverse law enforcement background has afforded her successful working relationships with her state and local counterpruts, extensive experience in international drug trafficking organizations and the illicit sale of pharmaceuticals.
In February 1993, Ms. Gibson began her law enforcement career as a Police Officer and Narcotics Detective with the Mount Pleasant Police Department, South Carolina. In 1997, Ms. Gibson was hired as a DEA Special Agent and was assigned to the New York City Division's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Unit where she gained invaluable experience cond4cting both domestic and international narcotics investigations. Early in her career, Ms. Gibson was also trained as a Trauma Team Member where she responded to critical incidents ranging from job related shootings to death notifications.
In October 2005, Ms. Gibson was promoted to a Group Supervisor in the New York City Drug Enforcement Task Force, the oldest and most successful task force in the country, comprised of DEA Agents, New York Police Department Detectives, and New York State Police Investigators. Ms. Gibson led her group during the Fentanyl surge in New York City and was able to navigate between successful investigations and the safety of her group members.
In December 2010, Ms. Gibson was transferred to the DEA's Office of Professional Responsibility, Northeast Region, were she was part of a team assigned to an Executive Priority Investigation targeting corruption amongst international vetted units assigned to DEA.
In June 2014, Ms. Gibson was promoted to Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the New York City Drug Enforcement Task Force overseeing six active enforcement groups. In addition to her duties as an Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Ms. Gibson handled numerous critical incidents and worked closely with the Employee Assistance Program to provide assistance to employees and family members in need.
In September 2017, Ms. Gibson was selected for promotion into the Senior Executive Service as the Deputy Assistant Administrator in DEA's Diversion Control Division's Regulatory Program, with the responsibility over 1.8 million DEA registrants. In this capacity, she led the programs responsible for the regulation of all controlled substances within the United States and to ensme the proper registration for those who could access them. Ms. Gibson was also responsible for the control over the United States Aggregate Production Quotas, controlling the amount of raw material allowed to be disseminated yearly for the production of controlled substances used by United States citizens. Ms. Gibson traveled to the Republic of China as a representative of DEA to w.ork with the Ministry of Public Safety to advocate for the control of all Fentanyl substances produced in their country, ultimately resulting in the control of 32 substances by the Republic of China, and a review of a class control for Fentanyl. Ms. Gibson's tenure in the Regulatory Division also saw seven emergency scheduling actions for controlled substances, permanently controlling three designer drugs and the class control on all Fentanyl related substances. Ms. Gibson has testified in front of the United States Congressional House and Energy Committee on the dangers of synthetic drugs in the United States and the efforts the Drug Enforcement Administration has taken to combat the importatior,. and distribution within the United States.
Ms. Gibson is a 1992 graduate from the University of South Carolina with a degree in Criminal Justice.
Intro Voices 00:04
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Karen Ortman 00:35
Hi, everyone, and welcome back to You Matter, a podcast created to teach, inspire and motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion and to identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I am your host Karen Ortman, Associate Vice President of Campus Safety Operations at the Department of Campus Safety, and a retired law enforcement professional. Today I welcome a returning season to guest Susan A Gibson, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement administration's New Jersey division. SAC Gibson is here to talk about the DEA is National Prescription drug take back day, an event that aims to provide a safe, convenient, and anonymous means of disposing of prescription drugs. SAC Gibson, thank you for joining me today and welcome to you matter.
Susan A Gibson 01:30
Thank you for having me back. I truly appreciate being here.
Karen Ortman 01:33
So let's start by talking about the DEA. How does it differ from other federal agencies?
Susan A Gibson 01:41
We are a single mission federal agency, we are assigned to enforce the drug laws, the United States Title 21, that any kind of infractions against the controlled substance act, that is our arena.
Karen Ortman 01:57
Okay, and what is the DEA footprint here in the United States and abroad?
Susan A Gibson 02:03
Currently, we have 239 domestic offices and 23 different divisions throughout the United States, and 93 foreign offices in 70 countries around the world.
Karen Ortman 02:14
Wow. So you cover a large part of the world
Susan A Gibson 02:19
yes we do
Karen Ortman 02:20
What is a sack I mentioned earlier, your title, Special Agent in Charge? The acronym is sac. What does that mean?
Susan A Gibson 02:29
Well, throughout the United States, we have 23 separate field divisions, and each one of them is ran by a sac especial agent in charge. Currently, I am assigned to the great state of New Jersey and I oversee all the DEA operations in that state.
Karen Ortman 02:43
And then do you liaise I presume, with other sacs throughout the world to sort of compare intelligence and discuss matters that affect, that are global issues?
Susan A Gibson 02:57
Absolutely. And that's one of the best things about DEA is that we can reach out and touch somebody and get information from all of our counterparts around the world. We have a big footprint, and I'm really proud of that we can really get a lot of actionable intel from our counterparts and DEA agents throughout the world.
Karen Ortman 03:16
And how long have you been with DEA?
Susan A Gibson 03:19
I've currently been with dea 25 years.
Karen Ortman 03:22
Wow.Yeah. Did you start out in DEA or did you start at a local police agency?
Susan A Gibson 03:31
I actually started in 1993. And a police department and South Carolina DEA was hiring and I was really blessed to get hired.
Karen Ortman 03:40
Nice. And it worked out well for you.
Susan A Gibson 03:42
I think it did. I think it did.
Karen Ortman 03:45
Let's talk about the National Prescription drug take back day. What is that?
Susan A Gibson 03:54
In that day provides an opportunity for Americans to prevent drug addiction and overdose deaths by cleaning out their medicine cabinets and turning in their unwanted unused and expired prescription medications. And we hold it twice a year at the end of April and I believe at the end of October every year.
Karen Ortman 04:12
Okay. And how does the DEA get the word out to the community that this is a service they provide essentially to collect everybody's prescription pills.
Susan A Gibson 04:24
Well, we have a great website. And we have one dedicated to the National Take back initiative, which is takeback de da.gov. We also are on television and we use a radio channels to get our information out there too. So we try every avenue to get as much attention to it.
Karen Ortman 04:42
Why was this program created?
Susan A Gibson 04:45
It actually was created in New Jersey which I'm really proud to say. In 2009 we started to work this concept with the Partnership for drug free New Jersey and New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. And it went so well that DEA adopted it nationally. So this is the 21st year. And the stats that we have gotten are pretty tremendous. I mean, DEA has taken 372 tons. And that's tons of unused medication. And we also do it throughout the year. So if you go on take back day dea.gov, even if you miss the day that we're advertising and we're promoting, anytime of the year, you can get rid of these drugs to prevent it from getting into you know, somebody's hands.
Karen Ortman 05:32
Oh, that's good to know. So if you miss the day, or the alternate locations, like a pharmacy,
Susan A Gibson 05:41
pharmacy, police departments, some have their doors open three or 65 days a year to receive those unwanted medications.
Karen Ortman 05:51
Is there a limit to the types of medications you'll take?
Susan A Gibson 05:58
There has absolutely no limit other than liquid and syringe form, we won't take those. However, anything of the vaping pen nature e cigarettes, if you want to get rid of them just as long as you take the battery out of it, we will take those two.
Karen Ortman 06:13
Now, what is the relevance of the battery removal?
Susan A Gibson 06:17
Well, the lithium batteries, I mean, they can they can start a fire if they're not
Karen Ortman 06:22
a safety thing, what is the value of the Take Back program, from your perspective and your years of working narcotics,
Susan A Gibson 06:31
the sooner that we get to a child to prevent them from starting down a path that can lead to addiction, and we need to get to them as early as possible. In addition, we also need to get any kind of medicine that they can find in their home that they can try and you know, develop that addiction. So this is the opportunity that I really think that's imperative for parents out there to get the substances out of the house if you do have these medications. And if you do need them, make sure they're secure. Keeping them in medicine cabinets, unsecured people breaking into houses stealing them. You know, that's what we want to prevent from happening. No.
Karen Ortman 07:15
And I'm certain that you see firsthand the the effects of this opioid epidemic that we seem to have been experiencing for quite a period of time. But yet it's it's getting worse with the I won't say introduction because it seems like fentanyl has been around for several years as well. But it's certainly increasingly present in a lot of these substances, which is really scary. How do you expect to reach you know that younger segment of the population that seems to believe that they are invincible and are the ones that are taking those one one offs? You know, there's one pills it seems like it would be a challenge to to get the message one pill can kill to that sort of segment of the population
Susan A Gibson 07:45
Absolutely, in this day is just so important because we're still battling the opioid crisis across the country. One of the staggering stats that the CDC just released was showing that 12 month period between April 2020 and April 21, we had more than 100,000 suspected drug overdose deaths in this country. And that's the largest 12 month period, ever. Every day, we have 275 people die from overdoses. And if you want to put that into a frame of mind, think of a 757 airplane crashing every day. That is the number of people we lose every day to this crisis. It's such a such a horrible thing going on this country, the DEA actually issued a public safety alert and launched a campaign on counterfeit pills that campaigns identifies that one pill can kill. We we are adamant and we're dedicated to getting the public, you know to have awareness about the surge in deadly fake prescription pills driven by drug trafficker seeking to exploit the US market. This is an epidemic. The wrong pill, the wrong amount of fentanyl that is found in all these pills will kill you. Yeah, into these these kids especially need to know that, you know unless it's from a prescriber unless you get that pill from a physician. I'm sorry, a pharmacist, do not put that in your body. These pills look identical to the real ones. is a challenge but it's avenues like this. I think this reaching out to NYU population that Ah frame they need to know, pills out there if it's not from a pharmacist if it's not contained and in the the appropriately appropriate packaging from prescriber to you, you're not supposed to be taking that. You know, we're trying to get into schools as soon as we can, can. I know here DEA in New Jersey, we're actually working with a charter school to act more of as a mentor to get, you know, information to these kids. But DEA is also big into the social media where we have Twitter accounts from each division. You know, we're trying our hardest to get this information out. I speak at business, you know, entities and conferences. You know, anytime that I can vocalize how bad it is out there as far as these prescript, these fake counterfeit prescription pills, I'm going to be singing it from the rooftops.
Karen Ortman 10:56
Yeah, good. I'm glad. And you can't physically observe the substance of fentanyl, in a pill or any other illicit substance. Correct.
Susan A Gibson 11:10
You know, Karen, someone just gave me this analogy the other day, and I thought it was perfect. If you take a chocolate chip cookie, and you know, we have all made them, each one of them has a different amount of chocolate chips in it, right? Look at that as a pill. These pills are not manufactured, they're not regulated, they are made by street level want to be chemists who manufacture these pills, and it could take contain no fentanyl, or contain like so much fentanyl on it, it could take one pill and you're dead.
Karen Ortman 11:41
So it's like Russian roulette. Really,
Susan A Gibson 11:43
it's absolutely like Russian roulette. And the key about the closed system distribution that DEA oversees is that you know exactly what's in each pill, it's regulated, it can be replicated, and that's why it's safe. So we want to make sure that that everybody understands you don't get it from a pharmacist. And if it's not prescribed to you, you do not take it we're trying to get to to the kids as young as as, as we can to make sure that they understand what they put in their body. They got to know what they're putting in their body. Even as as like kindergarteners, first graders and everything, just getting that message out. It's like know what you put in your body and help them you know, before they ever go down a path and open that door.
Karen Ortman 12:26
So do you have programs for kids as young as elementary school about drug use? Is there is there a way that that is communicated to elementary kids in a way that they understand?
Susan A Gibson 12:42
I know, since my tenure here in New Jersey, I have gone down to different school districts at very, you know, lower level grades, just you them. I know, our demand reduction and our outreach programs definitely are getting the word out operation prevention, which DEA supports to get the word out for teachers to school, their kids. In addition, I think getting parents educated is extremely important. Here in New Jersey we have hidden in plain sight. It's a great program, drafted and thought of by my public information officer, Tim McMan. He goes throughout the state, and he actually sets up a bedroom for parents to actually see it visually like where kids hide stuff, what to look for. So it's educating not only the kids, but the parents too. Yeah.
Karen Ortman 13:46
Is there a lot of demand on behalf of parents to learn more about drugs? From
Susan A Gibson 13:52
Yes, yes. And it's great. And when we anytime a parent organization, even a parent calls, if they need any kind of training help we get them the help that they need. We are so excited to work with parents, because that's the first avenue of defense, getting these kids on the right path at a very early age.
Karen Ortman 14:12
Does DEA partner with any substance use disorder treatment facilities,
Susan A Gibson 14:21
we work with the federal agency, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration SAMSHA. They have the best website. You can go on the website. There's also a one 800 number that you can put in your zip code and it's going to get you it's going to guide you to the help that you need depending on what you're looking for and what your issue is. You know, we don't work one on one with any kind of treatment facility, but they're also on the DEA page. There's treatment center locators also on the DEA for medical assisted treatment. But yeah, there's definitely those are two great avenues for if you need to get yourself help or somebody that you love help, go to those two websites. Okay.
Karen Ortman 15:05
Sounds good. When we talk about the National Take back day for disposing of substances, Why can't someone just throw in the garbage and unused substance or flush it down the toilet? Why does that not make sense?
Susan A Gibson 15:23
Well, some communities actually prohibit the practice of disposing of medications down the toilet due to concerns over the trace levels of drug residues found in rivers, lakes and the community drinking water. So if if you don't give it to us to dispose of accordingly, the one of the recommended ways to dispose of it is to mix it in with an undesirable substance such as us coffee grounds or kitty litter, and not necessarily into the water system. And that's why it's so important that this is an avenue let us take your drugs. Okay, and let us get rid of them appropriately.
Karen Ortman 15:59
So we hear a lot about naloxone. Can you speak to first defining what it is for listeners who might not know and what value does it have when combating this opioid epidemic?
Susan A Gibson 16:20
Well, I'll first describe what it is. naloxone is also known as Narcan. It's an opioid receptor antagonist that rapidly binds to the opioid receptors in your brain. And essentially what it does, it blocks the heroin from activating them and appropriate dose of naloxone x in less than two minutes, and completely eliminates all signs of opioid intoxication to reverse the opioid overdose. Narcan naloxone is extremely important in saving lives. I know all my agents have Naloxone, the access to it, I recommend any kind of school, business, anything out there to have access to Naloxone, it can save a life. And also keep in mind, you may need more than one. So to have, you know, if you are supplying Naloxone, if you're going to have that secured in an office that can be used for any reason, you know, have a few on hand because you may need more than one. But it does save lives.
Karen Ortman 17:21
So how does it work on on substances other than heroin?
Susan A Gibson 17:27
No, it doesn't. This is actually attacking just the opioid receptors in the brain. It's focused on that it's nasal. So it goes directly to the brain to the receptors. And it can be used on both adults and children. And can be administered administered by first responders, family members or caregivers. So it really doesn't take medical training to use it's just a nasal spray,
Karen Ortman 17:50
does it require training at all?
Susan A Gibson 17:53
I mean, there's going to be directions on it when you see receive the product, but it's really a nasal spray. You could do Afrin I would think that you can do a Narcan.
Karen Ortman 18:03
Okay, and how do businesses or other organizations obtain this Naloxone
Susan A Gibson 18:11
over the counter. You can buy it, you know, at any drugstore out there.
Karen Ortman 18:17
You mentioned earlier, a slogan one pill can kill what what are the what is the origin of that? And what does it mean to D
Susan A Gibson 18:27
100,000. People have died over the last year and again that that stat that I had was 275 overdoses per day if you think of a 757 crashing every day. That's how many overdoses are happening. One every five minutes. Somebody's passing away. And the overdoses are primarily being driven by fentanyl, which is found in these counterfeit pills.
Karen Ortman 18:52
Amongst other things
Susan A Gibson 18:54
yes, but 64% of the overdose are involving fentanyl. And then the in methamphetamine about 20% Is fentanyl. If you get any product that's out there. It's it's fentanyl. So you can be looking for cocaine. It's going to be fentanyl, heroin. Most of the heroin samples that are coming into New Jersey are fentanyl based.
Karen Ortman 19:19
And you let and I'm sorry, let me just ask you this. And you know this because when you confiscate a substance, it's tested.
Susan A Gibson 19:27
Yes. And just recently a testing of the fentanyl of the counterfeit pills that we're getting four out of 10 every counterfeit pill that is tested contains deadly amounts of fentanyl. That's staggering four out of 10. And like you said before, so essentially playing Russian roulette with these pills. DEA we're dedicated to getting the counterfeit pills off the street. DEA has seized this year about 15,000 pounds and that's enough to supply 440 million lethal doses That's equivalent to a lethal dose to every American. It's deadly. We're definitely dedicated to fighting this. One kilo of fentanyl can equal 500,000 kills. Wow. Yeah, so we are dedicated and getting these pills off the off the street. It's a huge problem. And DEA is dedicated to figure out a way to get through this and the seizures that we're making are through the roof. In 2021, DDA alone sees 9.5 million counterfeit pills, which is an astronomical amount. We had 76 cases in a two month surge period involving drug traffickers also using emojis and code words as signals in buying and selling of deadly drugs and social media apps such as Snapchat, Facebook, Facebook, messenger, Instagram, Tik Tok and YouTube. 32 of those cases have direct ties to Mexican drug networks. So they're using social media apps to move their product. And it's a very big problem. Yes.
Karen Ortman 21:07
And that directly relates to, I would assume an issue with our young people who are using social media.
Susan A Gibson 21:15
Yes, it and that's where our concern really, really is. Because these kids are all over social media, the access to the pills, you know, which connects to the national drug take back, we got to get them out of their hands. And then we have to watch what they're doing on social media. So you know, it's an all hands on deck approach, yeah, for keeping them out of this arena. Sure, our new administrator and Milgrom, she's dedicated to highlighting the counterfeit pill problem in this country. One pill can can kill is definitely her platform that she wants to make sure that we do everything we can to get attention to this Vir problem, to save lives, to save kids lives, knowing that whatever they put in their body, that that one pill can kill them. We're definitely doing some great stuff and DEA to get the word out.
Karen Ortman 22:07
So this one pill can kill initiative. How is that audience targeted?
Susan A Gibson 22:14
Well, it's directed to everybody. I think anybody that is is going through, you know, an opioid disorder, and are addicted to opioids, they see a street counterfeit pill that looks like the pill that they were using. You know, they're inclined to take it. So anyway, that we can get the word out. I know our administrators, definitely beating the street and getting you know, word out on different avenues. But we really want to plug our website dea.gov. Because that's going to give you all the information you need to get, you know information about these pills. Just remember whatever pill that you have, that's not from a prescriber to you. From a pharmacist you should not be ingesting, you should not be taking
Karen Ortman 23:05
really important message. Is there anything that you would like to discuss before we conclude our conversation today?
Susan A Gibson 23:15
Well, the next take back day is going to be April 30 2022, I highly recommend everybody to get rid of their pharmaceuticals, and give them to us so we can get exposed to them appropriately. And one of the biggest takeaways that I do in any kind of speech or any kind of lecture is that it's up to all of us to spread this. So you know, we all have loved ones neighbors, we all have, you know people in our lives that we need to make sure that are safe and healthy. And getting this information out there about any kind of pill that is purchased from a street dealer, or given to you by a friend, you don't know where it came from. This opioid epidemic has affected us all it is affected everyone it there's not somebody out there that doesn't know somebody that has passed away, or has a loved one that passed away from opioid abuse. And, you know, it's up to all of us to share this message and get people the help that they need.
Karen Ortman 24:12
Well, I agree and I applaud you for the work that you and the DEA does. And I'm very much appreciative of your time today to talk to me. So thank you,
Susan A Gibson 24:24
Karen, I can't thank you enough for having me on this because the fact that we can get this information out in any avenue I truly appreciate it. Karen Thank you so much.
Karen Ortman 24:34
My pleasure and I am as passionate about getting the word out there as as you are my friend. So thank you once again to my guest SAC Gibson and to all of our listeners for joining us for today's episode of You matter if any information presented was triggering or disturbing. Please feel free to contact the wellness exchange a 212-443-9999 or NYU is Department of campus safety and their victims. Services Unit A to 129982222. Please share like and subscribe to you matter on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or tune in