New Justice Department field division in Kentucky will facilitate drug control efforts within the Appalachian Region, coordinate drug trafficking investigations between U.S. attorneys and the 22 DEA field offices
The Justice Department will open a new Drug Enforcement Administration field division and distribute federal grant money to address the opioid epidemic, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced.
These actions will target parts of the country hit hardest by the opioid epidemic, which in 2015 accounted for 33,000 out of 52,000 drug overdose deaths.
The new office, which will be based in Louisville, Ky., is expected to facilitate drug control efforts within the Appalachian Region and to coordinate drug trafficking investigations between U.S. attorneys and the 22 DEA field offices.
The current Louisville district office will now be the 22nd DEA Field Division, with about 90 special agents and 130 task force officers. The new field division will cover West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Sessions also directed the nation’s 94 U.S. attorneys to designate an Opioid Coordinator to identify cases for federal prosecution and combat the illegal manufacturing and distribution of heroin and prescription opioids.
In addition, the DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office will award $12 million in funding to law enforcement agencies in states with high per capita rates of primary care treatment admissions for heroin and opioids. Grant money will be used to support investigations of illegal heroin and opioid distribution.
The attorney general’s announcement comes just over a month after President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency under the Public Health Service Act.The president’s declaration expands the availability of medically-assisted treatment via telemedicine and allows state and federal agencies greater flexibility in hiring substance abuse specialists; however, the administration stopped short of declaring a broader national state of emergency under the Stafford Act or committing new federal funds to the epidemic.
It remains unclear whether congressional lawmakers will take up opioid funding as they negotiate a year-end spending package. Congressional committees have held multiple bipartisan hearings to assess the full extent of the crisis, but have yet to authorize any additional new funding.
Congress previously allocated funds to address substance abuse in last year’s 21st Century Cures Act, which authorized $1 billion in funding over two years to combat opioid addiction and overdose deaths.
So far, $500 million has been appropriated for FY2017, and the balance is expected to be attached to FY2018 funding for the federal government.
Some lawmakers have floated proposals to extend similar levels of funding into FY2019, or to tweak the funding distribution formula to reach states with particularly high opioid overdose rates.
NACo will continue to engage with congressional lawmakers and the Administration to ensure counties have the resources they require to manage the opioid epidemic in their jurisdictions.