Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 7, 2013

Drug war

Arrests, investigations key to success

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — The war against the region’s rampant prescription drug abuse epidemic is a seemingly never-ending struggle. But it is important to note that many law enforcement officers, undercover agents and task force members across our region are fighting this battle on a daily basis. And these brave men and women are making a difference.

The large laundry list of drug-related indictments announced just this week by Tazewell County, Va., Commonwealth Attorney Dennis Lee and U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin of the Southern District of West Virginia are good examples of the progress that is being made on the front-line of the drug war.

In Tazewell County, the arrests announced by Lee were the result of a year-long investigation conducted by members of the Tazewell County Narcotics Task Force, the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office, Richlands Police Department, Tazewell Police Department, Bluefield, Va., Police Department, Virginia State Police and Cedar Bluff Police Department.

Thankfully, such investigations and arrests are becoming more common in Tazewell, Mercer and McDowell counties, as well as in localities across the region.

The recent drug round-up in Tazewell County also included several arrests for synthetic marijuana and even prompted the closure of two county businesses where the store owner and clerk had been selling the illegal substance.

Lee warns that pharmaceutical companies create designer drugs like synthetic marijuana but do not test or conduct clinical trials on the drugs. He says many of these drugs are manufactured and shipped from overseas and countries such as China, often advertised over the Internet as “plant food” or “potpourri” with warnings they are “not for human consumption.”

While the abuse of synthetic marijuana is an emerging problem in our region, the number one drug on the streets in Southwest Virginia is still oxycodone. And the problem is quite similar in neighboring southern West Virginia. But West Virginia-based investigations, including an ongoing effort to combat prescription drug abuse in southern West Virginia known as the Bluefield Pill Initiative, is making a difference. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin has been actively leading the Bluefield Pill Initiative in conjunction with the Southern Regional Drug and Violent Crime Task Force. The task force is composed of law enforcement representatives of the West Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation; the Mercer, McDowell and Wyoming county sheriff’s departments; and the police departments of Bluefield and Princeton.

Goodwin, and members of the task force, announced Thursday the arrest of more than 20 individuals stemming from a 51-count federal indictment on charges related to the distribution of oxycodone in Bluefield and Wyoming County. Five other individuals were charged with the intent to distribute a controlled substance in Mercer County.

These ongoing investigations are playing a critical role in helping to stem the region’s rampant drug problem. We applaud the efforts of all of our regional task force members and law enforcement officers in helping to facilitate these ongoing investigations and arrests.

Goodwin said the three-county Bluefield Pill Initiative has resulted in more than 50 arrests in a two-year period.

The initiative was launched two years ago in response to the community’s concern about the rapid growth of crimes related to prescription drug abuse. The federal pill initiative is making an important difference.

It is critical that these investigations, and corresponding arrests, continue. That is the only way we are going to get some level of control over this scourge of prescription drug abuse.