Recently, I was successful in pressing the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to expand the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), which enables our state’s law enforcement officers and officials to access additional federal resources to further their drug control and prevention efforts.
Drug abuse and trafficking and the crime that accompanies it requires a coordinated response across all levels of government, and I am working hard to ensure our state’s law enforcement officials have access to the resources and training and information that they need to help them protect our communities.
I have been speaking and corresponding with the ONDCP director, who visited southern West Virginia earlier this year at my request, to convey the concerns I hear from law enforcement officials, as well as community service organizations, employers and businesses, and citizen volunteers who organize anti-drug and drug-free community coalitions. I aim to ensure that our state has access to the HIDTA resources that can help state and local law enforcement in shutting down pill mills and methamphetamine labs, and protecting our homes and businesses from the encroaching drug trade.
In fact, knowing its importance to our law enforcement personnel, I helped to lead the effort in the House of Representatives to restore funding for the HIDTA program, fighting to prevent tens of millions of dollars of proposed cuts.
I also have supported legislation to increase federal regulation of chemicals that are used to produce methamphetamine and sought to enhance criminal penalties for trafficking in the drug. I have been a consistent advocate of including tamper-resistant safeguards in the production of pharmaceuticals with the potential for abuse, so that over-the-counter cold medications, for example, cannot be used to produce methamphetamine.
However, a multi-prong strategy is needed in waging a successful battle against the drug abuse epidemic, and that includes both increasing law enforcement and substance abuse education and treatment.
In the Congress, I have advocated increasing resources for state-based drug court programs, which provide nonviolent substance abuse offenders with mandatory drug testing and substance abuse treatment as an alternative to incarceration.
As well, I have supported and voted for legislation to expand health insurance coverage for mental health and substance abuse disorders, so that mental health services are offered on par with medical and surgical benefits. I also believe we need to continue strengthening education and training opportunities for mental and behavior health providers in order to prepare our health professional workforce to handle the need for treatment and services.
I intend to keep pushing hard on all fronts to ensure that our communities have every resource available in our fight to protect our homes and businesses from the harmful consequences of drug abuse and trafficking.
But knowing the widespread nature of the problem before us, it is the involvement of West Virginians and the many others who have been personally affected by substance abuse and addiction that will help turn the tide on drug abuse within our communities.
Parents and teachers talking with their kids and students about the dangers of drug abuse, and local community leaders organizing and coordinating resources and assistance from the federal and state governments, will lead to finding new solutions and making progress.
I will continue to work closely with federal agencies, as well as representatives of our law enforcement and community service organizations, to talk about our state’s efforts to address the public health and safety challenges of drug abuse and to find ways to help our communities in fighting such epidemics.
(Rahall represents West Virginia’s Third Congressional District.)