Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Plaster

Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Plaster speaks during a press conference at the Tazewell County Courthouse on Monday.

TAZEWELL, Va. — A recent drug roundup showing increasing use of methamphetamine and heroin in Tazewell County has resulted in a special grand jury turning in a total of 132 indictments charging 111 people, resulting in 326 charges, the commonwealth’s attorney announced Monday.

The indictments handed down Sept. 18 were partly the result of a year-long collaborative investigation by agencies including the Tazewell County Narcotics Task Force, the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office, Richlands Police Department, Tazewell Police Department, Bluefield, Va., Police Department and the Virginia State Police, Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Plaster said.

The opioid crisis is still being felt in Tazewell County and the rest of the nation, but local law enforcement is seeing more methamphetamine and heroin being used by the region’s addicts as opioid pill become less available.

Methamphetamine is “cheap and highly addictive,” Plaster said.

“Some research suggests that a first-time user could be very well become an addict for life,” Plaster said. “That’s a scary thing and I hope our community understands.”

The drug methamphetamine is often used by individuals who had undiagnosed mental conditions and other problems. It can increase a sense of well being that is lacking in some people, but it comes with a high price, Plaster said.

Eventually, methamphetamine “steals your job, before methamphetamine, steals your home, steals your family, steals your sense of worth and ultimately takes your life,” he said.

Heroin is being used increasingly by the county’s addicts, too.

“Heroin has unfortunately made a

resurgence in our county,” Plaster said. “It’s extremely addictive. Adding to the danger, dealers are cutting it with fentanyl, leading to a spike in overdoses.”

Plaster said the Tazewell County was grateful for the hard work the Tazewell County Narcotics Task Force and the other local law enforcement agencies have put into investigations that takes drugs out of the community. 

“That work is only the beginning,” he said. “Our focus is tracing these drugs back up the food chain.”

Much of the methamphetamine and heroin coming into Tazewell County comes from outside the region, Plaster said. The meth comes from southern areas and the heroin originates in northern cities such as Detroit. 

Police chiefs at the press conference said that seeing five or six overdoses over a weekend was not uncommon. Chief Jerry Gilbert of the Richlands Police Department recalled instances when “bad batches of drugs” containing fentanyl led to two or three overdoses at a time. Property crimes increase, too, as addicts try to support their habits.

“It seems to be an never-ending battle, but it’s a battle we’re willing to fight every day,” Gilbert said.

Tazewell County Sheriff Brian Hieatt said there are times when people who point out suspected drug houses and other places where suspicious behavior occurs might think that the sheriff’s office and other agencies are not doing anything, but many of these investigations are not conducted by officers in full uniform and driving marked cars. Much of the work is done by undercover officers and through cooperating individuals. The fact that the grand jury handed down indictments on 326 charges shows that work is being done.

“You don’t see them,” Hieatt said of the investigators. “That’s the nature of the drug task force.”

“The selling of illegal drugs in Tazewell County cannot and will not be tolerated,” Plaster stated.

Plaster urged people who considered dealing drugs for whatever reasons to reconsider.

“We may not catch you the first time. We may not catch you the second time, but we will catch you,” he said.

People selling drugs might tell themselves that they will never be a “snitch” and work with law enforcement, but “the last person you sold to, they will,” he said, adding, “We are tired of seeing lives destroyed, tired of seeing families destroyed and tired of seeing our community destroyed for the profit of a few,” Plaster stated.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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