WASHINGTON - Ocean County's efforts to stop opiates from hooking, and killing, its residents, receive a major boost with its designation as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) byt he Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

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The move opens access to federal resources and promotes coordination of local, state and federal law enforcement, and culminates efforts on Capitol Hill by shore Representative Tom MacArthur (R-3), and U.S. Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

HIDTA stems from the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. It provides assistance to federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States.

MacArthur, Republican Chair of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force, succeeded in squelching proposed ONDCP and HIDTA budget cuts that would have short-circuited any plan to include Ocean County. Booker began lobbying for inclusion in May. MacArthur followed it up with a missive to ONDCP, urging expansion into the county.

Representative Tom MacArthur (Alexander Heller, Ocean County College)

MacArthur, who espouses the balanced approach of law enforcement, treatment, rehabilitation and education that's also reflected in Governor Chris Christie's anti-opiate efforts, cited figures that underscore the urgency.

"Last year, 190 Ocean County residents died from an overdose-that's one death every 43 hours," he said in prepared comments. Our local law enforcement officials are on the front lines of this fight and need help to get dealers off our streets and stop drugs from flowing into our communities."

Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato (Townsquare Media)

"This designation is critical for Ocean County and will ensure our police officers have the assistance and resources they need to save loved ones. I will continue to fight for our community and support local law enforcement in their effort to protect our neighborhoods and rid our streets of drugs and the criminals who profit from ruining people's lives."

Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato quickly acknowledged the value of entry into HIDTA.

"I can't thank the Senators enough for helping us achieve this critical designation, bringing new and powerful assistance to Ocean County's opioid crisis fight," Coronato said. "We have long sought the help of this federal drug prevention program to bolster our ability to make substantial impact in our fight to close Ocean County borders to drug dealers. We especially thank Senator Booker for personally advocating so strongly on our behalf. Simply put: This is a game changer."

Robert Menendez talks with Sen. Cory Booker {Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Monmouth County entered the New York-New Jersey HIDTA in 2016, due in part to efforts by Booker and Menendez to broaden the program. It produced $125,000 in federal funds, and a team consisting of members of the Monmouth Prosecutor's Office, FBI, DEA, and other partners involved in investigations and outreach.

"The opioid epidemic plaguing our nation continues to tear families and communities apart across Ocean County and our entire state," Booker said. "The key to finding a long-term solution to the opioid crisis is to implement an all-hands-on-deck approach that includes law enforcement, medical professionals, and treatment providers. This designation will do just that by increasing coordination among all levels of government and providing Ocean County access to critical federal resources. In the wake of yet another stunning defeat of efforts to strip healthcare away from millions of Americans, this federal designation comes at an important time to help heal our communities and save lives."

Menendez characterized Ocean County as the epicenter of a national opiate threat that has yet to reach full grrowth. "Becoming part of the New York/New Jersey HIDTA provides Ocean County with yet another tool in the ongoing battle against opioids, including access to federal resources to help stem the tide and save lives from the perils of heroin and prescription opioid overdose. This HIDTA designation combined with expanded access to naloxone and treatment programs, as well as greater awareness amongst patients and providers about addiction risk, are essential to protecting our citizens and our communities from the affliction of addiction."

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