The federal government recently designated portions of Alaska as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). The Office of National Drug Control Policy announced earlier this month that areas surrounding Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks can now receive federal funding to fight drug trafficking. The money will pave the way for more regional coordination to combat the production, transport and use of illegal drugs.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker applied for the HIDTA designation in January as part of his Public Safety Action Plan to help address the state’s opioid epidemic. Alaska is the newest HIDTA since 2001. The 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 United States. Law enforcement organizations working within HIDTAs assess drug-trafficking problems and design specific initiatives to decrease the production, transportation and distribution of drugs.

So what does this mean locally? In Juneau and Southeast Alaska, the federal money will go to the Southeast Alaska Chiefs Against Drugs, an established regional task force that includes the Alaska State Troopers, Juneau Police Department and law enforcement agencies across Southeast. Task force members agree that drugs are a regional problem and should be addressed regionally. This new federal funding will make that easier.

Costs associated with the logistics of doing drug operations in Alaska and Southeast are expensive. Law enforcement agencies in Southeast already work together and collaborate on drug operations, but a lot more can be done; the HIDTA funding will allow for that further coordination. It won’t be up to an individual municipality to pay for assisting another community. The federal funding can be used for training and to pay for logistics of drug investigations, like travel and drug buy money. The funding cannot be used for additional staff. The Juneau Police Department has two dedicated narcotics investigators, who are overseen by Lieutenant Jeremy Weske. They’re all members of the Southeast Alaska Chiefs Against Drugs; Lt. Weske chairs the task force.

Prior to this new federal designation, Alaska was the only state that had no official HIDTA locations and was unable to access any of $250 million in federal anti-trafficking funding available to other states. Like the rest of the country, Juneau and Southeast have been dealing with an opioid epidemic. The new funding will allow the region more tools to combat it.