ONDCP Expands List of High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas

By John Lavitt 02/11/16

The ONDCP aim to help even more communities with their drug-prohibition enforcement program.

ONDCP Expands List of High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas
Photo via Shutterstock

As the Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Michael Botticelli announced the expansion of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) to include even more of Appalachia. Hit hard by both prescription painkiller abuse and heroin addiction, Appalachia has seen a spike in both hepatitis C and HIV infection rates. As a result, Blount County in Tennessee has been added to the list of over 60 Appalachian counties already designated. The new designation will allow local law enforcement agencies in Blount County to benefit from federal funds and programs.

Established in 1990 after the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 was passed, HIDTA is a drug-prohibition enforcement program run by the United States Office of National Drug Control Policy. There are now 28 regional HIDTAs, comprising about 17% of all counties in the United States. Located in 48 states, HIDTA provides extra support to just over 60% of the U.S. population. 

Created in 1998, the Appalachian HIDTA includes counties in Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. HIDTA Deputy Director Joel Reece traced the arc of the illicit drug crisis in Appalachia. Although HIDTA’s earliest efforts were concentrated on marijuana trafficking, methamphetamine and cocaine became a regional priority in the beginning of the 21st Century. 

In recent years, prescription painkiller abuse became prevalent with the rise of the pill mills. Since enforcement efforts shut down the pill mills, the resurgence of heroin has become the biggest problem. Now needles are regularly being shared, and overdoses are becoming more and more common in the region.

In a press conference announcing the expansion, Director Michael Botticelli explained, “With the designation of new counties as High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, we are enhancing the ability of federal, state, and local authorities to coordinate drug enforcement operations and improve public health and safety. The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program is an important part of this Administration’s work to expand community-based efforts to prevent drug use, pursue ‘smart on crime’ approaches to drug enforcement, work to reduce overdose deaths, increase access to treatment, and support millions of Americans in recovery.”

Local agencies apply for, and are subsequently granted access to HIDTA resources based on several criteria. “A review panel looks at the applications,” Reece said. “They look at the magnitude of the problem in an area. They look at how much the extra resources might help that particular area. And they look at whether the applicant counties will provide adequate matching resources.”

This announcement comes in the wake of Director Botticelli forming the White House’s first-ever committee on opiate abuse. Botticelli says he will host community forums across the country focused on best practices and evidence-based initiatives to prevent and treat prescription drug abuse and heroin use. “The President has made clear that the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic is a priority for this Administration,” said Director Botticelli. 

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.