West Virginia Capitol

File photo: West Virginia Capitol with its dome framed by turning sugar maples leaves in Charleston, W.Va.

CHARLESTON — With methamphetamine a growing problem, anyone convicted in West Virginia on certain charges related to the drug could spend more time in prison if a bill is sent to Gov. Jim Justice and gets his signature.

House Bill 4852, spearheaded by Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler, received third reading on Friday in the Senate, passing  34-0, and was then sent to the House to concur with an amended title.

The House is expected to concur today and the bill sent to the Governor’s desk.

The bill basically doubles the minimum and maximum penalties for the charge of possession with intent to manufacture or deliver methamphetamine.

State Code now has a one to five year penalty for the charge but with the bill that sentence would be two to 10 years. The fine would also go up, from a maximum of $15,000 to $25,000.

Delegates had already approved the bill by a 95-3 margin.

Sitler originated the bill after a trial of a Rural Retreat, Va. woman, who was found guilty of murder in the beheading of a Lerona man in 2018.

Sitler said after the January sentencing to life in prison with no parole for Roena Mills, 43, that the case illustrates the “menace we are facing in Mercer County” with the spread of methamphetamine, a drug the investigation revealed was connected to the crime.

“Methamphetamine is an extremely dangerous drug and makes people act in horrible, unpredictable ways,” he said. “I have written a bill to enhance the penalty for meth distribution to change it from one to five years in jail to three to 15 years.”

Sitler said Del. John Shott, R-Mercer County, had indicated he will be introducing that into the legislature this term and he did.

Although the penalty was changed in committee to two to 10 years, Sitler said he is satisfied.

“I am in favor of an increased penalty,” he said, emphasizing again how the drug is “rampant” and the violent tendencies it can give people.

According to a report from the state West Virginia Health Statistics Center released in September 2019, the use continues to grow as evidenced in overdose deaths.

While overall overdose deaths in the state saw a slight decline in 2018, the percent of overdose deaths involving methamphetamine continued to increase, the report said.

“More than one-third (36 percent) of drug overdose deaths in 2018 involved methamphetamine. This continues a significant and rapidly rising trend seen in recent years (2014: 3 percent; 2015: 7 percent; 2016: 12 percent; 2017: 23 percent; 2018: 36 percent). More than half of all methamphetamine-related deaths also involved fentanyl.”

The National Institute of Drug Abuse says that, in addition to being addicted to methamphetamine, “people who use methamphetamine long term may exhibit symptoms that can include significant anxiety, confusion, insomnia, mood disturbances, and violent behavior. They also may display a number of psychotic features, including paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and delusions (for example, the sensation of insects creeping under the skin). Psychotic symptoms can sometimes last for months or years after a person has quit using methamphetamine, and stress has been shown to precipitate spontaneous recurrence of methamphetamine psychosis in people who use methamphetamine and have previously experienced psychosis.”

 — Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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