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Crime & Courts

Alaska gains access to federal grant program to combat drug trafficking

WASHINGTON — A large swath of Alaska is eligible for government grants to fight drug trafficking after the state received a new designation from the federal government.

Alaska is the 50th state to receive a designation for High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, following requests from Gov. Bill Walker. The state will now have access to a federal pool of $250 million to fight illegal drug use, transport and production.

The HIDTA zone extends across Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau. Most states' designated areas include a cluster of counties or a region surrounding a city hit hardest by drug trafficking.

James Carroll, deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, told Walker and the congressional delegation of the decision Tuesday. Alaska's HIDTA is the first new regional program since 2001, he told them in a letter.

Alaska's request for the designation came as part of officials' efforts to manage the state's opioid epidemic. Walker submitted an application to the program in January, and Alaska's two U.S. senators wrote the Office of National Drug Control Policy to express support for the request.

"This is a critical development in our work to build a safer Alaska. This designation offers new doors to share information, new resources to fight the opioid epidemic, and new opportunities to save lives across Alaska," Walker said in a statement.

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan said he has invited Carroll to visit Alaska "to talk about more ways the federal government can help Alaska."

"In Alaska, much like the rest of the country, we have seen a massive spike in opioid and heroin addiction throughout the state, wreaking havoc in our communities and on our families," he said.

"The HIDTA program will open the door for Alaska to receive additional federal resources to bolster law enforcement and improve drug control efforts at a state and local level," said Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Substance abuse and drug trafficking "robs us of our youth, plagues countless adults, and inflicts anguish on our families," said Alaska Congressman Don Young.