The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is targeting opioid abuse in Appalachia by establishing a new field office in Kentucky to oversee a region ravaged by overdose deaths.
The new Louisville field office will have a special agent in charge to oversee investigations in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia.
It will improve efforts in the Appalachian mountain region and streamline drug trafficking investigations under a single special agent in charge, acting DEA Administrator Robert Patterson said during a news conference Wednesday with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
D. Christopher Evans, an associate agent in charge in the DEA's Detroit field office, will lead the new Louisville office.
Sessions said it's the first restructuring of DEA field offices since 1998, when the agency created an El Paso, Texas, field office.
"Today we are facing the worst drug crisis in American history, with one American dying of a drug overdose every nine minutes," Sessions said during the news conference in Washington. The Department of Justice also announced $12 million in grants for state and local law enforcement to combat heroin and methamphetamine dealers.
Designating Louisville as a field office and installing a special agent in charge will better align DEA with the U.S. attorney offices in the three states, according to a release.
The Appalachian region has been ground zero for the opioid problem in recent years. Overdose deaths were 65 percent higher among people in Appalachia than in the rest of the country in 2015, a recent Appalachian Regional Commission study found. The study, "Appalachian Diseases of Despair," reported that nearly 70 percent of the overdose deaths in the Appalachian region in 2015 were caused by opioids. West Virginia had the highest opioid overdose mortality rates with 52.8 deaths per 100,000 people.
The new Louisville office will have a total of 150 positions with 90 special agents in the three states. The restructuring involved moving the three states out of other DEA divisions to place them under the Louisville office. The Louisville office will begin operations on Jan. 1.