Valadao, Duarte spearhead fentanyl legislation

New bill allocates $300 million annually to fight opioid scourge, gets votes of support from Tulare, Fresno County agencies

(Rigo Moran)
(Rigo Moran)
Darren Fraser
Published February 6, 2024  • 
1:30 pm

CENTRAL VALLEY – A cohort of House Representatives, including two from the Central Valley, have introduced legislation to combat the trafficking of fentanyl and other drugs in high intensity drug trafficking areas (HIDTAs) across the country, including the Central Valley.

On Feb. 2, Rep. David Valadao, R-22nd District, and Rep. John Duarte, R-13th District, and four other U.S. Representatives rolled out the HIDTA Reauthorization Act of 2024. According to a press release from Valadao’s office, the bill “seeks to crack down on fentanyl and international drug cartels by increasing coordination between various law enforcement agencies.” The release notes that in 2023, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol seized 26,700 pounds of fentanyl along the southern border – a 480% increase over 2020.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the fatal fentanyl overdose rate for the first time topped 112,000 over a 12-month period in 2023. The drug is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Over 150 people die every day from overdoses related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

“Fentanyl has continued to plague communities across the nation, especially here in the Central Valley,” Valadao said in the release. “It is critical that we combat this epidemic with every tool at our disposal to save lives and keep our communities safe.”

In his press release from his office, Duarte said “the Valley, like many communities across our country, has been devastated by the fentanyl and drug epidemic in the United States.” 

He continued, “That is why I am proud to introduce this bill to provide financial support to help law enforcement get these drugs off our streets and judicial resources to put drug traffickers behind bars.”

From the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Mike Boudreaux gave a show of support for the legislation, saying that, as the past chairman of the California State Sheriffs Association, he understands the importance of keeping dangerous drugs – especially fentanyl – away from the public, as it is “a cancer to not only our country, but our local communities.”

“Our children and our families are reliant on law enforcement to keep them safe. That is our number one job,” Boudreaux said. “This funding will keep officers fighting drug battles, so that attorneys can hold drug traffickers accountable.”

Fresno County Sheriff – Coroner’s Office Public Information Officer Tony Botti said that anytime HIDTA receives more resources, the sheriff’s office sees it as a positive.

HIGH DRUG TRAFFICKING AREAS IN THE VALLEY

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) administers the HIDTA Program, which was established in 1988. The Program coordinates and assists federal, state, local and Tribal law agencies to address regional drug threats with the purpose of reducing drug trafficking and drug production in the U.S.

The ONDCP has identified 33 individual high intensity drug trafficking areas in the U.S., including the Central Valley. The Central Valley California HIDTA (CVC HIDTA) covers 15 counties, including Fresno and Tulare counties. 

The CVC HIDTA is no small endeavor. It includes 24 county agencies, including the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office and the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office. There are 10 federal agencies, 18 local agencies, including the Fresno and Visalia Police Departments, and seven state agencies involved.

Stanislaus County is one of the counties covered by CVC HIDTA. Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse said the program more than pays for itself.

“For every dollar spent on the Central Valley HIDTA, it returns $712 in street value of drugs seized,” said Dirkse.

According to Dirkse, in the last year, the CVC HIDTA has seized 8,800 pounds of methamphetamines, over 900 pounds of cocaine, 321 pounds of powdered fentanyl and over 4 million doses of pills of fentanyl.

“Of the 4.1 million pills of fentanyl, 60 to 70% have a fatal level of fentanyl in them,” Dirske said. “In Stanislaus County alone, we seized 58 pounds of powdered fentanyl, which is enough to wipe out half of the United States.”

He added, “As a Sheriff, everything comes down to resources. This funding for HIDTAs provides us the resources to go after these dealers and keep our communities safe.”

HIDTA REAUTHORIZATION ACT

The Reauthorization Act infuses the HIDTA Program with more money and manpower. Beginning this fiscal year and continuing through fiscal year 2030, the Program would receive $302 annually, which is an annual increase of $22 million. 

The Act would establish a new grant program within the Program. Individual HIDTAs can apply for grants to beef up their fentanyl seizure and interdiction programs. The Act authorizes the appropriation of $14,225,000 annually for grants.

The Act would also direct the U.S. Attorney General to temporarily assign at least 16 assistant U.S. attorneys to individual HIDTAs. These attorneys would prioritize the investigation and prosecution of individuals and organizations trafficking in fentanyl.

Darren Fraser
Reporter