The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) will open its 22nd division office next year in Louisville, Kentucky, martialing all the agency resources to focus on the three states that are hardest hit by the nationwide opioid epidemic.
Joined there by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, DEA Administrator, Robert Patterson had announced the new division office during a morning press conference on Wednesday.
“DEA continually looks for ways to improve operations and interagency cooperation and more efficiently leverage resources,” Patterson had said. “By creating a new division in the region, this restructuring places DEA in lockstep with our partners in the area to do just that. This change will produce more effective investigations on heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioid trafficking, all of which have a significant impact on the region.”
The DEA has 21 domestic divisions, along with 91 foreign offices in 70 countries. Previously, the Louisville field office fell under the command of the Detroit division, covering Kentucky, Ohio, and Detroit.
The new office will be responsible for all the DEA investigations in the Appalachian region, specifically the Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia region. According to the Center for Disease Control, West Virginia and Kentucky have the highest and third-highest per capita rate, respectively, of the drug overdose deaths in 2015; Tennessee was the tenth. CDC data also shows that out of the 10 counties with the highest rate of drug overdose death, 8 are in either Kentucky or West Virginia.
“This is an area of the country that continues to see the effects of the opioid epidemic,” said the Special Agent in Charge D. Christopher Evans, who would be in lead of the new office.
“The new Louisville Field Division will allow us to better address the unique needs and challenges of the central Appalachia region, and better serve the communities within it. I look forward to working with the dedicated law enforcement community here and building on the great work that is already taking place in the region,” Evans had said.
In addition to the establishment of the Louisville division office, Sessions had announced $12 million in funding through the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program to help and fund the state and local police forces in their fight against the heroin and meth.
Sessions also announced that he would instruct U.S. attorneys to appoint an opioid coordinator to help with prosecution of opioid-related crimes. These appointments are expected by next month.
“These steps will make our law enforcement efforts smarter and more effective—and ultimately they will save American lives,” Sessions had said in a statement.
This announcement is just the latest one in a series of policy changes that are designed to better equip the DEA to fight the opioid epidemic. Earlier this month, the agency had announced its intent to correctly schedule all the illegal analogues of fentanyl, allowing the agency to be more effective in prosecuting fentanyl producers who skirt import bans by creating similar but chemically distinct variants of the highly toxic drug.