Capito, Manchin Join Colleagues at the Urgent Office of the National Drug Control Policy on Subsidies for High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas

CHARLESTON, W.Va. Yesterday, U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (RW.Va.) and Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), along with 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), urging additional aid to combat drug trafficking in the Appalachians.

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

“In Appalachia, Law Enforcement Struggles to Turn the Tide of Substance Abuse,” the senators wrote in their letter to ONDCP. In the words of then Attorney General William Barr, Appalachia has suffered the effects of the opioid epidemic ‘perhaps more than any other region’. In 2018, the overdose death rate for people aged 25-43 was 43 percent higher in Appalachia than in the rest of the country. It is a region that needs the help that the HIDTA program was supposed to provide.”

Since its inception in 1988, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) grant program has increased coordination and information sharing among federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement agencies. These additional federal resources, allocated to areas considered critical regions for drug trafficking, are essential to eradicate drug trafficking and its harmful effects. ONDCP has the legal authority to create new HIDTAs and add new provinces to existing HIDTAs once it has received a formal petition from a coalition of law enforcement agencies.

Despite the enormous need, the Appalachian HIDTA has historically only received approval for about 30% of the petitions filed. In the most recent round of nominations, no counties within the Appalachian HIDTA — which includes West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Southwest Virginia — received the sought-after designation.

“This fact, in addition to the clear need of the region, strongly suggests that the process of granting should be reconsidered,” the senators continued:. “Appalachian HIDTA counties would benefit from expanding this program into their communities and it would be a huge help to the law enforcement agencies that serve them and the surrounding areas. As ONDCP reviews Appalachia’s HIDTA petitions, we ask that you consider the devastating effects of illegal drugs in the region to effectively disrupt and dismantle human trafficking organizations and reduce drug-related crime.”

the senators concluded, “We urge ONDCP to review its criteria to ensure that hard-hit regions such as Appalachia remain competitive for HIDTA designations. We further request that a timely written response detailing the results of this review be provided.”

A copy of the letter is available below:

Dear Dr. gupta:

Today we are writing about the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program and certain shortcomings in the Appalachian counties designation process.

Since its inception in 1988, the HIDTA grant program has increased coordination and information sharing among federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement agencies. These additional federal resources, allocated to areas considered critical regions for drug trafficking, are essential to eradicate drug trafficking and its harmful effects.

As you know, the ONDCP gives statutory authority to create new HIDTAs and add new provinces to existing HIDTAs once it receives a formal petition from a coalition of law enforcement agencies. HIDTA designation is determined by four criteria, including an evidence-based description that describes the magnitude of illicit drug activity, its impact on the area and the United States, existing efforts to contain it, and the increased need for federal resources to adequately respond to the drug-related activities in the region.

In Appalachia, law enforcement is struggling to stem the tide of substance abuse. In the words of then Attorney General William Barr, Appalachia has suffered the effects of the opioid epidemic “perhaps more than any other region.” In 2018, the overdose death rate for people aged 25-43 was 43% higher in Appalachia than in the rest of the country. It is a region that needs the help that the HIDTA program was designed for.

But historically, the Appalachian HIDTA has only received approval for about 30% of the petitions filed. And in this most recent round of designations, no province within the Appalachian HIDTA received the coveted designation. This fact, in addition to the clear need of the region, strongly suggests that the process of awarding the designation needs to be reconsidered.

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

We urge ONDCP to review its criteria to ensure hard-hit regions like Appalachia remain competitive for HIDTA designations. We also request that you provide a timely written response describing the results of this assessment.

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