LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A new federal designation putting three northern Kentucky counties in line for potentially more funding to combat illegal drugs comes at the right time, the leader of a regional drug strike force said Thursday.
As the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force tries to choke off supplies of heroin and other illegal drugs, its director has to make sure there’s enough money available to pay his officers overtime or to keep the agency’s aging vehicles on the road.
“It would be nice if they (drug traffickers) all worked 9 to 5 like everybody else, but that’s not the case,” the director, Chris Conners, said in a phone interview. “So when the iron’s hot, we’ve got to strike, and that’s what we do.”
Conners hopes some of his budget concerns may ease eventually with the announcement by the Office of National Drug Control Policy that Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties have been added to the Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
“This designation into HIDTA, for a myriad of reasons, is right on time,” Conners said.
The three mostly suburban counties south of Cincinnati have been hard hit by heroin addiction. Last year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hosted a visit by national drug czar Michael Botticelli to the area to hear accounts of how the drug woes have ravaged families.
In 2015, there were 217 drug overdose deaths combined in the three counties, up from 148 in 2012, according to state statistics. Statewide, the death toll from drug overdoses reached 1,248 in 2015, up from 1,071 in 2014.
McConnell, who helped push for the HIDTA designation for the three northern Kentucky counties, called it a “substantial step” to combat the production and trafficking of illegal drugs in the region.
The designation, he said, will enable officials to “leverage federal resources along with those of state and local partners” to benefit the counties.
“The number of deaths and drug overdoses in Kentucky are alarming, and law enforcement needs every tool imaginable to reverse the trends, change lives and beat back the devastation wrought by substance abuse,” the Kentucky Republican said.
The Kentucky counties were among 18 counties in nine states added to High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas on Thursday. The HIDTA program, created by Congress in 1988, serves as a catalyst for coordination among federal, state and local law enforcement in areas beset by drug trafficking.
Botticelli said the program is part of efforts by President Barack Obama’s administration to expand community-based efforts to promote effective drug enforcement, reduce overdose deaths and increase access to substance abuse treatment.
A number of Kentucky counties, including a large swath of southeastern Kentucky, are part of the Appalachia HIDTA.
The designation adding Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties to the Ohio HIDTA comes as drug treatment providers in northern Kentucky struggle with ongoing demands for assistance from addicts.
Transitions Inc. could double the number of residential treatment beds available for women and it would still be at capacity within days, said Jim Beiting, CEO of the addiction services provider in northern Kentucky. Its services include residential treatment for men and women.
“If somebody calls today and says ‘I need to get some help and I’m using heroin,’ and if I say, ‘well, we don’t have a bed, can you call back Tuesday?’ They may not be alive. So it’s a lot of pressure when somebody calls,” he said.
Transitions strives to find help for people the same day they call, whether it’s there or a referral to another provider, he said.