Montgomery County receives federal support for combatting drug trafficking

NORRISTOWN >> Law enforcement officials working to thwart drug trafficking in Montgomery County have received some federal support by being designated as a “High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.”

“This HIDTA designation will now allow us to stand united with our law enforcement regional partners to battle the opioid epidemic that has taken hold of our communities,” Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele said at a news conference on Tuesday. “Together at the local, state and federal level we will fight those who traffic and import drugs into our communities and the dealers who are selling the heroin and fentanyl that have already killed so many.”

The designation was announced last week by White House Acting Drug Policy Director Richard Baum and essentially allows Montgomery County to join 27 other areas of the country in combining forces to combat drugs and drug trafficking.

“These new designations and the funding they will bring will help our federal, state and local law enforcement officers work together to disrupt and dismantle the trafficking networks that are bringing drugs into our communities,” Baum said.

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Jerry Daley, executive director of the Philadelphia-Camden HIDTA, couldn’t say Tuesday how many federal dollars might come to Montgomery County but said the funds could be used for law enforcement initiatives as well as demand reduction and treatment programs.

“With this designation, we look forward to partnering with law enforcement, public safety, public health and substance use treatment and prevention agencies and organizations in the county and its municipalities to combat drug trafficking, get help for those with substance use disorders and prevent drug misuse and abuse,” Daley said.

“This effort is vital…it’s hugely important,” added Gary Tuggle, DEA Philadelphia Special Agent in Charge.

Essentially, federal authorities added Montgomery County to the existing Philadelphia-Camden High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which also includes Chester and Delaware counties in Pennsylvania, Camden in New Jersey and New Castle County in Delaware.

Officials said that by fostering collaborations among its more than 250 participants through the establishment and funding of enforcement initiatives and by providing support services, such as training, information technology and intelligence analysis, the Philadelphia-Camden High Intensity Drug Trafficking Agency has leveraged finite agency resources and engendered innovative approaches to drug law enforcement since 1995 in the Philadelphia region.

Steele noted that of the 249 overdose deaths in Montgomery County in 2016, 108 involved fentanyl. While the overdose death rate so far this year is remaining steady, the involvement of fentanyl in overdose deaths has now surpassed 50 percent and “is a major part of the crisis we are facing,” Steele said.

The HIDTA program was created by Congress in 1988 and serves as a catalyst for coordination among federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug trafficking regions of the U.S. Law enforcement agencies working within the designated areas assess drug trafficking problems and design specific initiatives to decrease the production, transportation and distribution of drugs.