We must prevent as many of these deaths as possible because the number of deaths from opioid overdose in the United States is already on an alarming trajectory. Since 1999, the figure has quadrupled, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid overdoses claimed the lives of more than 33,000 in 2015 alone, and opioids caused 60 percent of all the overdose deaths in America.

On May 23, we are joining conservative leaders from across the nation in Washington, D.C., to explore new, conservative ways to cure the opioid epidemic and combat the illegal drug trade. The gathering will be hosted by Right on Crime, a group focused on conservative solutions for criminal justice reform.

We recognize that Attorney General Sessions is faced with the difficult job of enforcing our laws, while other parts of the administration are focusing on treating addiction. There is no question that major drug traffickers, dangerous cartels, and other violent criminals who are involved in the drug trade need to be caught and swiftly brought to justice.

However, it is important to make a clear distinction between dangerous criminals and people who are battling addiction. We believe the attorney general should issue further guidance to make this distinction clear. Furthermore, Congress should look to the successful drug sentencing reforms in the states for guidance to re-examine federal guidelines.

To fight this terrible epidemic, it is imperative that we eliminate the flow of illicit opioids into our communities and provide treatment to help those who are addicted to break their bondage to opioids. It is truly a matter of life and death.

Newt Gingrich is a Fox News contributor. A Republican, he was speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. Follow him on Twitter @NewtGingrich.

Pat Nolan is the Director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union Foundation.