Drug trafficking program could be cut under President Trump's budget proposal
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - A national program helping local counties fight drug trafficking could be on the chopping block if the president's budget proposal is passed as is. The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, or HIDTA, is part of the DEA. According to the administration, there are currently 28 HIDTAs across 49 states. We learned several counties in the Tri-Cities are part of the program's "Appalachia" region. A HIDTA region is a significant center of illegal drug production or distribution. Drug-related activities in the area must also have a serious harmful impact. Last year funding the entire program costs the U.S. $250 million. White house officials say HIDTA is a duplicate of other federal programs already combating drugs. News 5's Kristi O'Connor is uncovering how some local police are putting the grant money to use. The Unicoi County Sheriff's Office confiscates thousands of dollars of drugs every year. Because of the counties' location to Interstate 26, it is a designated as a HIDTA county. "it is the corridor for the atlanta hub, drugs move north and money moves south," Chief Deputy Frank Rogers said. Rogers says they have one DEA agent and an investigator dedicated to drug investigations. "They stay busy, we could probably use five of them," Rogers said. Which means many of regular county officers are working overtime on drug investigations and that overtime is funded by HIDTA. Plus, HIDTA pays for specific training for undercover operations and drug enforcement. "Training this county could not afford if it hadn't been for HIDTA," Rogers said. If a drug operation gets to be too big for the department, Rogers says they call on federal, state and HIDTA for back-up. "Although we have the ability to call for help and help will come, somebody has to pay and that's where HIDTA comes in," Rogers said. It is easy to see why a smaller agency with a smaller budget would need more grant money, but we found out even larger departments like Johnson City rely on HIDTA. Captain Matt Howell says it is mostly used to fund overtime. "It's no secret that their schedule is not 8 to 5," Howell said. As meth, opioid and other substance abuse continues to plague this area, Captain Howell says that money will continue to be needed. "It helps to offset some of the costs that are passed along to the citizen of Johnson City," Howell said.