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White House names Blount County as High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area

BLOUNT COUNTY - (KNOXVILLE) The White House director of national drug control policy announced Thursday that Blount County is one of the additional counties in 10 states designated as High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs).

The designation enables Blount County to receive federal resources to boost drug control efforts among federal, state and local law enforcement officials.

Blount County Sheriff James Berrong said this will supplement their local efforts with more manpower, money, and equipment to prevent drugs from coming into the area.

"We want to know where it's coming from and stop it from getting into the county instead of trying to control it once it gets there, which is more difficult," Berrong said.

Joel Reece, deputy director for the Appalachia HIDTA, said the majority of drug threats for this region are coming from Atlanta.

"Atlanta, Ga., is what Miami was in the 80s and Houston, Texas was in the 90s," Reece said. "Everything begins and ends in Atlanta now."

Drug trafficking has evolved in the Appalachia region over the years, Reece said. The Appalachia HIDTA was formed in 1998 specifically to combat the marijuana problem. Over the years, the drug epidemic has evolved from marijuana to meth labs to cocaine and now opioids.

Reece added that the emerging threat is heroin.

"We've always been the best at the wrong things," Reece said. "We were always the best at moonshine. We became the best at growing weed and making meth, and now, unfortunately, we're the best at pills."

National Drug Control Policy Director Michael Botticelli said in his visit to Knoxville that the Obama administration is committed to fighting the epidemic on the front end by looking at ways to prevent it and expanding treatment resources, but also by expanding law enforcement efforts on the back end.

Botticelli hosted a community forum on the opioid epidemic Thursday afternoon at South College. Panelists for the forum included Nate Allen, deputy chief of police with the Knoxville Police Department, Mark Beebe, director of recovery ministries at Cokesbury Church, Angelee Murray, co-founder and executive director for Red Legacy Recovery, and Dr. Cynthia Thomas with Northeast Regional Health.

The panelists explained how the drug epidemic has affected their professional careers and took questions from the audience regarding prescriber training, treatment options, and drug prevention.

The panelists echoed the same sentiment that it will take the efforts of the community to fight this problem at its core.

"It affects everybody," Allen said. "It affects all of us so it takes all of us to solve it."

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