Capito and Manchin join colleagues in pressing Office of National Drug Control Policy on grant assistance for high-intensity drug trafficking areas

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – Yesterday, US Senators Shelley Moore Capito (RW.Va.) and Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), as well as Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Marsha Blackburn ( R-Tenn.), and Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), sent a letter to Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), requesting additional assistance to combat drug trafficking. drugs in the Appalachian region.

While some counties in West Virginia have seen a slight drop in overdose deaths, West Virginia remains the state with the highest number of overdoses in the nation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2020, 1,330 lives were lost due to drug overdose – a death rate of 81.4 per 100,000 population. The national average is 28.3 per 100,000.

“In Appalachia, law enforcement is struggling to stem the tide of drug addiction,” wrote the senators in their letter to the ONDCP. “In the words of then-Attorney General William Barr, Appalachia suffered the consequences of the opioid epidemic ‘more, perhaps, than any other region.’ In 2018, the overdose death rate among people between the ages of 25 and 43 was 43% higher in Appalachia than in the rest of the country. This is an area that needs the assistance for which the HIDTA program was designed.

Since its inception in 1988, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Grant Assistance Program has enabled greater coordination and information sharing among federal, state, tribal and local. These additional federal resources, allocated to areas considered hotspots for drug trafficking, are critical to eliminating drug trafficking and its harmful consequences. The ONDCP has the legal authority to create new HIDTAs and add new counties to existing HIDTAs once it receives a formal request from a coalition of law enforcement agencies.

Despite the enormous need, historically the Appalachian HIDTA has only achieved approval for about 30% of petitions submitted. In the most recent round of designations, Nope Appalachian HIDTA counties — which encompass West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Southwest Virginia — received the sought-after designation.

“This fact, juxtaposed with the region’s demonstrated need, strongly suggests that the allocation process needs to be revisited,” senators continued. “The HIDTA counties in Appalachia would benefit from the expansion of this program into their communities and it would be of immense help to the law enforcement agencies that serve them and the surrounding areas. While the ONDCP reviews applications for HIDTA designation of Appalachia, we ask that you consider the devastating effects of illegal drugs in the region in order to effectively disrupt and dismantle trafficking organizations and reduce drug-related crime.

Conclude the senators, “We urge the ONDCP to review its criteria to ensure hard-hit regions like Appalachia remain competitive for HIDTA designations. We further request that a written response outlining the results of this review be provided in a timely manner.

A copy of the letter is available below:

Dear Dr. Gupta:

We are writing today about the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s (ONDCP) High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program and some shortcomings in the county designation process in the Appalachian region.

Since its inception in 1988, the HIDTA Grant Assistance Program has enabled greater coordination and information sharing among federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies. These additional federal resources, allocated to areas considered hotspots for drug trafficking, are critical to eliminating drug trafficking and its harmful consequences.

As you know, the Substance Use Disorder Prevention Act that promotes recovery and treatment of opioids for patients and communities (SUPPORT Act) gives ONDCP statutory authority to create new HIDTA and to add new counties to existing HIDTAs once it receives an official petition from a coalition of law enforcement agencies. The HIDTA designation is determined by four criteria, which include an evidence-based description detailing the extent of illegal drug activity, the impact on the region and the United States, existing efforts to reduce it, and the need increased federal resources to adequately respond to drug-related activities in the region.

In Appalachia, law enforcement is struggling to stem the tide of drug addiction. In the words of then-Attorney General William Barr, Appalachia suffered the consequences of the opioid epidemic “more, perhaps, than any other region.” In 2018, the overdose death rate among people between the ages of 25 and 43 was 43% higher in Appalachia than in the rest of the country. This is an area that needs the assistance for which the HIDTA program was designed.

Yet historically, the Appalachian HIDTA has only won approval for about 30% of petitions submitted. And in this latest round of designations, no Appalachian HIDTA county has received the desired designation. This fact, juxtaposed with the demonstrated need of the region, strongly suggests that the designation process needs to be reviewed.

Appalachian HIDTA counties would benefit from expanding this program in their communities and it would be of immense help to the law enforcement agencies that serve them and surrounding areas. As the ONDCP reviews Appalachia’s applications for HIDTA designation, we ask that you consider the devastating effects of illegal drugs in the region in order to effectively disrupt and dismantle trafficking organizations and reduce drug-related crime.

We urge the ONDCP to revise its criteria to ensure that hard-hit regions like Appalachia remain competitive for HIDTA designations. We further request that a written response outlining the results of this review be provided in a timely manner.

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