EYEWITNESS LOCAL NEWSFIGHTING DRUG ABUSE
from Eyewitness News Online
U.S. Attorney Makes Battling Prescription Problem Top Priority
Reported by: Kennie Bass
Videographer: Matt Durrett, John Tincher
Web Producer: Kennie Bass
Reported: Feb. 21, 2013 6:41 PM EST
Charleston , Kanawha County , West Virginia
When a recent Mingo County drug sweep netted more than 50 people suspected of using and dealing, it was a clear example of how big the drug problem is in this part of West Virginia.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin has devoted a unit in his office to almost exclusively fighting prescription drug abuse.
In the last two years, Goodwin's office has prosecuted more than 200 prescription drug dealers.
"More than anything, people are dying," Goodwin said. "It's devastating lives. It's affecting, you know it's a public health problem as well as crime problem. It's perhaps the biggest issue facing the southern district of West Virginia overall and it's no doubt the biggest crime problem that we have."
Goodwin says while prescription drug abuse is at the top of the pyramid, heroin is creeping into the picture. As authorities make it tougher to find pills dealers and addicts are turning to heroin to get their fix, with deadly consequences.
"It was that Oxycontin was our major problem," Goodwin said. "It moved on to another drug opana and now we're seeing a shift more into heroin. And that's driven by, I think in part, due to our crackdown on the supply."
While Goodwin is hammering drug dealers with the power of the federal government he's also trying to educate the region's young people about the dangers of prescription drugs. He's made regular appearances at schools in his district spreading that message.
"It's why I'm out talking in schools and talking to our young people about the dangers of prescription drug abuse because you gotta get them young," Goodwin said. "Kids are having pill parties instead of beer parties and they don't recognize the real dangers that are involved. Because they think you can pull it out of the medicine cabinet, it's given to you by a doctor or a pharmacist, it must be safe. Well it's every bit as dangerous as street drugs."
In addition to prosecution and education, Goodwin says the third element of successful drug abuse program is rehabilitation. He says West Virginia must make treatment a priority to help users break the cycle of addiction.
"This is tearing apart whole communities in our state," Goodwin said. "There are literally whole towns that have been ripped apart by this epidemic."
Goodwin says he's using all of the tools of his office to make it clear that drug abuse in southern West Virginia is something that must be dealt with.
"We are trying to send a message," Goodwin said. "We are trying to deter folks coming here from out of state. We are trying to send a very clear message that if you do this we will catch you and you will go to jail."
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