The US Drug Enforcement Administration announced that it will send teams of investigators to New Bedford and five other cities across the country to help battle drug trafficking.
The DEA said the teams are being sent to cities that face significant challenges with heroin and fentanyl, according to a DEA statement.
“These teams will enhance DEA’s ability to combat trafficking in heroin, fentanyl, and fentanyl analogues and the violence associated with drug trafficking,” Robert W. Patterson, the agency’s acting administrator, said in the statement.
The announcement comes days after President Trump declared the nation’s opioid epidemic a “public health emergency.”
The DEA already operates a field office in New Bedford, and the city’s mayor, Jonathan F. Mitchell, previously worked as a federal prosecutor in Boston.
In a statement to the Globe, Mitchell said “it makes all the sense in the world” for the DEA to provide more resources to its New Bedford office, given the high incidence of overdoses on Cape Cod and in Bristol and Plymouth counties.
“This additional funding will bolster the efforts of police departments across the Cape and Southeastern Massachusetts in stemming the flow of opioids into the region,” Mitchell said in the statement.
The DEA said that drug overdoses are now the leading cause of injury-related deaths in the United States, and reported that there were more than 64,000 overdose deaths nationwide in 2016. The agency said more than half — about 34,500 — were caused by opioids.
The abuse of prescription drugs is linked to the trafficking of drugs like heroin and fentanyl, the statement said.
Along with New Bedford, the DEA will send teams to Charleston, W.V., Raleigh, N.C., Long Island, N.Y., and the Ohio cities of Cincinnati and Cleveland.
The DEA reported that it chose each city based on factors including opioid mortality, levels of heroin and fentanyl seizures, and “where additional resources would make the greatest impact in addressing the ongoing threat,” the statement said.
In New Bedford in 2016, 55 opioid-related overdose deaths were reported, according to Massachusetts health officials, six more than the 49 deaths reported in 2015.
The number of opioid deaths in New Bedford has more than doubled since 2012, when 26 fatal opioid-related overdoses occurred, according to state records.
New Bedford is also caught up in drug abuse among fishermen. In 2016, heroin was found on six of 11 boats searched randomly in drug raids, leading to eight arrests.
While the teams are based in specific cities, the “DEA will continue to pursue investigations wherever the evidence leads,” the statement said.
John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.