High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) designation is key to providing a Multi-Jurisdictional Task Force in Western Pennsylvania to curb the source of drugs supplying the Opioid Epidemic.
As an ongoing effort to have our congressional representative apply for a Federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) designation for Westmoreland County, I recently met with the Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Soo. C. Song, Retired Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh and Chair of the Institute of Politics, Mark A. Nordenberg, and Director of the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, Janice L. Pringle. If we are to have any impact on the overdose death rate in our area we must stop the supply of illicit drugs. Attorney Song assured me that the application for a multi county “HIDTA” designation for our area is clearly justified and continues to be developed. I told her there is only one “HIDTA” designation in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and it is as if the federal government does not think we have a drug overdose problem in Pennsylvania.
I have the privilege of managing several private foundations at Covington Investment Advisors that provide support to the community. For many years the foundations have primarily focused on supporting basic human needs, early childhood development and adult educational programs. Recently the foundations have turned their attention to the drug epidemic in Westmoreland County, underwriting the funding of the Drug Task Force Executive Director position for Westmoreland County, a 1-800 help line, along with many other preventative programs as well as the underwriting of Narcan.
While it is difficult to fully measure the impact our foundation’s preventative programs have had on our community, it is blatantly clear that we are having no impact on overdose death rates in the County with the programs we have underwritten.
I am disappointed in the lack of results of the County’s efforts in addressing the drug epidemic and my concern related to drug overdoses only grows. The overdose rate of deaths in the County is growing at 46% per year. Last year we had 174 overdoses. At this rate, we will have 7,689 overdose deaths ten years from now.
The complete costs associated with these deaths is immeasurable in terms of the families affected and the lost contributions these individuals may have had in our communities. We simply cannot afford the economic impact of the overdose deaths associated with opioid abuse. Westmoreland County’s Coroner’s per case cost is $3,000. In 2016 with 174 overdose deaths the county had to process, it cost Westmoreland County $522,000. If the growth rate of overdoses continues and there is no sign of it slowing down, in ten years the projected overdose deaths of 7,689 will cost the county a staggering $23,067,000 in today’s dollars.
There needs to be greater coordination and collaboration between the Federal Government, the County, and community members at large in addressing the obvious implications of this tragic drug epidemic. The battle in Western Pennsylvania cannot be fought by 70 separate law enforcement agencies or even by a handful of small task forces. We need a Multi-Jurisdictional Task Force in Western Pennsylvania consisting of not only federal, state and local law enforcement officers but also of individuals from other state and federal agencies including the department of revenue, child services, rehabilitation, etc. to effectively fight the drug trafficking and drug overdose problem. Additionally, “HIDTA” Task Forces that have had the most effect have had dedicated federal and state prosecutors working together often with a special grand jury. A “HIDTA” designation would render such resources along with skilled intelligence analysts to turn the tide of overdoses in our county. If you want to help this initiative along talk to your elected officials, representatives and our District Attorneys about getting this “HIDTA” designation done. Working together we can change the overdose death growth rate in our county and country. See more about HIDTAs here->hidtas.pdf