The Drug Enforcement Agency will open its 22nd division office next year in Louisville, Kentucky, bringing agency resources and focus to three states hardest hit by the nationwide opioid epidemic.
Acting DEA Administrator Robert Patterson announced the new division office during a Wednesday morning press conference. Joined by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Patterson made clear that the goal of the Louisville office was to fight drug overdose and crime.
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"DEA continually looks for ways to improve operations and interagency cooperation and more efficiently leverage resources," Patterson 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 currently maintains 21 domestic divisions, as well as 91 foreign offices in 70 countries. Previously, the Louisville field office was under the auspices of the Detroit division, covering Kentucky, Ohio, and Detroit.
The new office will be responsible for DEA investigations in the Appalachian region, specifically Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia. According to the Center for Disease Control, West Virginia and Kentucky had the highest and third-highest per capita rate, respectively, of drug overdose death in 2015; Tennessee was tenth. CDC data show that 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 Special Agent in Charge D. Christopher Evans, who will lead 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 said.
In addition to the establishment of the Louisville division office, Sessions announced $12 million in funding through the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program to help fund state and local police forces in their fight against 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. Those appointments would be expected by the middle of next month.
"These steps will make our law enforcement efforts smarter and more effective—and ultimately they will save American lives," Sessions said.
This announcement is just the latest in a series of policy changes designed to better equip the DEA to fight the opioid epidemic. Earlier this month, the agency announced its intent to schedule all illegal analogues of fentanyl, allowing the agency to more effectively prosecute fentanyl producers who skirt import bans by creating similar but chemically distinct variants of the highly toxic drug.
These actions and more are part of the Trump administration’s response to surging drug overdose deaths in America. Drug overdose death is the leading cause of injury death in the United States, and the leading overall cause of death among Americans under 50. The overwhelming majority of these deaths are attributable to opioids, especially fentanyl, which is 50 times more powerful than heroin.