U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Wednesday enhanced federal enforcement targeting opioids in the Ohio Valley region, including a new Drug Enforcement Administration field division in Louisville.
At a press conference in Washington, D.C., Sessions said the Louisville field division will be the first new DEA division established in 20 years. He said it will have about 90 special agents and 130 task force officers focusing on drug trafficking in the Appalachian region.
“This field division will cover key areas: West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee,” Sessions said. “These areas covered face similar drug threats, enabling this division to better focus on the particular threats of that region.”
Sessions said the move will streamline the DEA’s drug trafficking investigations in Appalachia by coordinating efforts among police departments and prosecutors.
In addition, DEA Administrator Robert Patterson said the administration recently deployed a mobile squad to West Virginia to prevent diversion of prescription painkillers. The DEA added teams targeting heroin enforcement in West Virginia and Ohio, Patterson said, “to provide support in a region hit hard by the opioid epidemic.”
Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia collectively have a rate of opioid-related deaths that is more than twice the national average. Last year 5,306 people died from opioid overdoses in the three states.
Sessions also announced $12 million in grants to be awarded to law enforcement agencies tackling drug trafficking. He is also requiring each U.S. attorney to appoint an opioid coordinator to handle related cases and develop a strategy to combat the opioid epidemic.