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Lehigh County Designated a 'High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area' by White House | WDIY Local News

Exterior of the Lehigh County Government Center.
Sarit Laschinsky
Exterior of the Lehigh County Government Center.

Lehigh County has been designated a “high intensity drug trafficking area” by the White House, opening the door for additional assistance to address these issues throughout the region.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy announced last Thursday that Lehigh County, along with eight other counties across the United States, are the newest additions to its High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program within the Liberty Mid-Atlantic region.

The other counties added to the program are Randolph County, West Virginia; New Hanover County, North Carolina; Sullivan County, New York; Allen County, Ohio; Lee County, Florida; St. Lucie County, Florida; and Canadian County, Oklahoma.

According to a Friday press release from District Attorney Jim Martin, the new designation will provide benefits with investigative case support, information sharing and specialized training to help target drug activity entering the region.

It will also help combat drug trafficking and money laundering operations and will allow “significant resources” to be deployed-by Lehigh County to continue efforts to reduce drug production, trafficking, and drug related deaths.

Martin’s office said Lehigh County received the HIDTA designation after providing evidence to demonstrate four main points:

  • The area is a significant center of illegal drug production, manufacturing, importation, or distribution.
  • State, local and other law enforcement agencies have committed resources to respond to the drug trafficking problem in the area, indicating a determination to respond aggressively to the problem.
  • Drug-related activities in the area have a significant, harmful impact in the area and other areas of the United States.
  • A significant increase in federal resources is needed to respond adequately to drug-related activities in the area.

The release said Lehigh County’s proximity to New York City, northern New Jersey and Philadelphia makes it a “prime location” for trafficking. The county’s location adjacent to I-80 and I-476 also provides “ease of access to major drug destinations in the Mid-Atlantic area and New England.”
The release said this location was one of the reasons why the Department of Homeland Security established a Resident Agent in Charge Office in Allentown this year.

Lehigh County has also witnessed an influx of drug and violent activities from some of these areas, as well as drug-related deaths fueled by the opioid crisis and fentanyl, according to Martin’s office.

“The violence and availability of fentanyl and other illegal substances that Lehigh County law enforcement has encountered over the past several years have created a public safety and public health crisis,” the release said.

It also stated that Lehigh County has the third highest percentage of its population affected by drug-related deaths in Pennsylvania.

The release said local intelligence and investigative findings have determined that “kilogram quantities of heroin/fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine are being supplied by Mexican drug trafficking organizations into the region,”

Martin’s office also said drug-trafficking organizations have partnered with gangs operating in the Lehigh Valley to expand drug distributions and deepen criminal networks that also engage in gun and sex trafficking.

Lehigh joins several other HIDTA counties in Pennsylvania including Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia.

Martin’s release notes that Lehigh shares borders with two of these counties within the LMA region – Montgomery and bucks – and said that “criminals do not respect geographical borders.”

According to the White House’s announcement, President Joe Biden’s 2024 Budget calls for over $290 million in funding for the HIDTA program.

Established in 1988, the program helps federal, state, local and Tribal law enforcement agencies “to address regional drug threats with the purpose of reducing drug production and drug trafficking in the United States.”

ONDCP Director Dr. Rahul Gupta said in a release that the new HIDTA-designated counties, “will ensure our nation’s hardest-hit areas get the critical resources and support they need to crack down on illicit drug supply, prevent overdoses, save lives and make our communities safer.”

(Original air-date: 7/10/23)

Sarit "Siri" Laschinsky was WDIY's News and Public Affairs Director until 2023.
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