Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 11, 2013

Drug war: More help for Tazewell County


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — When it comes to the deadly scourge of prescription drug abuse, few silver linings can be found in our region. But if you look hard enough, positive headlines related to the region’s coordinated response to this epidemic can occasionally be found.

For example, millions in drug forfeiture funds have been recouped in recent years for both West Virginia and Virginia, including more than $2 million in federal funds alone for Tazewell County. Tazewell County Commonwealth Attorney Dennis Lee, who has been at the forefront of the regional drug war now for more than 14 years, has also prosecuted more than 200 defendants on federal narcotics trafficking and firearms related crimes as a special assistant United States Attorney under U.S. Attorney John Brownlee. Lee, and his office staff, were recognized last week by the county Board of Supervisors for their efforts,  and the critical federal funds that have been successfully secured for Tazewell County.

Lee and his office began assisting the U.S Attorney’s Office in 2003 on drug cases, including the federal Purdue Pharma case. Perdue Pharma ultimately was ordered to forfeit more than $600 million as part of the OxyContin federal civil settlement. Tazewell County received $1.32 million in forfeiture funds from that case.

Those dollars were used to help support local law enforcement, the Tazewell County Drug Court and other substance abuse and prevention programs in the county.

“This money was put toward local law enforcement vehicles, bulletproof vests and other equipment,” Lee said last week. “Also, billboards and drug abuse prevention programs.”

 Because Lee and his office has continued to provide support in prosecuting many of the narcotics trafficking and illegal firearm cases on a federal level, the county’s Commonwealth Attorney’s office was awarded another $1.3 million in federal funds just this past July. The newly awarded federal dollars will soon be put to good use.

Lee says that municipal police departments in the county, along with the sheriff’s office and the county’s drug court program, are all financially strapped. That’s why the latest federal funding infusion is welcomed and will make a big difference in fighting the drug problem in Tazewell County — a region that was ground zero more than a decade ago for the birth of the so-called hillbilly heroine epidemic.

Lee, and his office staff, are to be applauded for all of their hard work in securing these urgently needed federal funds. They will be put to good use in better equipping local police officers, boosting drug prevention efforts and helping those who are fighting addiction.

Every dollar spent fighting the deadly prescription drug epidemic is a worthwhile investment in the region’s future.