Feds pledge $1M a year to 3 Western Pa. counties to fight drug trafficking
Three Southwestern Pennsylvania counties will receive $1 million a year in federal funding to fight drug trafficking as the country’s newest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, federal and local officials said Monday at a press conference.
The area will include Allegheny, Beaver and Washington counties and is only the second new HIDTA designation since 2001.
Petitions coordinated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for those counties for the HIDTA designation began more than a year ago. The designation recognizes that an area has a unique drug-trafficking problem and allocates federal funds to help combat the problem.
“That includes not only what’s happening in our region, but going back to source cities and going back to countries that supply heroin and fentanyl,” U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said.
Pittsburgh was previously the only metropolitan area in the country’s top 25 largest that wasn’t part of a HIDTA.
The petitions detailed the counties’ record levels of fatal overdoses, specifically the high numbers attributable to fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, Brady said. The petitions also noted the federal highways — Interstates 70 and 79, the Pennsylvania Turnpike — that provide easy access to the area from drug distribution cities like Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and Newark.
Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone cited 62,000 overdose deaths across the country last year.
“In Washington County, we’ve tempered that number of deaths and overdoses, but it’s still too high. Our goal is to reduce those numbers to zero,” he said. “We can say in 2018, it’s the year when we’ve started to coordinate the responses of all levels of law enforcement within many counties to fight the supply of drugs flooding our streets.”
Allegheny County First Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Spangler agreed that one death is too many, and the ultimate goal is to end overdose deaths.
“We have been targeting these folks, we’ve been going after them and working to make those arrests and bring down the number of deaths in Allegheny County,” she said. “We’ve had very good success over the past two years in bringing down the numbers of deaths … but any death is too many.”
Allegheny County saw 737 overdose deaths in 2017.
Bob Jones, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Pittsburgh field office, pledged the bureau’s support in fighting drug trafficking. He called the designation a great step forward.
“The collective goal…is to stop the senseless loss of life and restore those communities blighted by this crime and everything else that surrounds it,” Jones said. “HIDTA gives us the money and resources to do that.”
The program falls under the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the funds can be used for things ranging from equipment to overtime for state and local law enforcement.
There are 28 areas that include 49 states, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C. and the Virgin Islands. Some are near or in Pennsylvania, but none include the southwestern part of the state. Areas in Alaska surrounding Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks were received the HIDTA designation in May, the only other HIDTA since 2001.
Other new areas named to existing HIDTAs on Monday include areas of New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, North Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky.
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.