Opinion Editorial

Timothy J. Heaphy


U.S. Attorney Opinion Editorial

U.S. Attorney’s Office Fighting Prescription Drug Abuse in Southwest Virginia

By: Timothy J. Heaphy


The abuse of illegal and prescription drugs has reached epidemic levels in Southwest Virginia.

We used to approach this issue as a criminal justice problem and hope that vigorous enforcement alone would solve it.  While our commitment to strong enforcement has not changed, we have broadened our focus to take a more hands-on approach, including crime prevention, community outreach and evidence-based substance abuse treatment.  A holistic approach to this vexing and persistent problem is essential if we are going to effectively curb abuse.

Our office is actively pursuing this multi-pronged response the public health crises of prescription drug abuse.  We are collaborating with community partners to bring a concentrated focus to the problem, and bringing much needed attention to its various dimensions:

  • Our office is organizing and hosting the Southwest Virginia Prescription Drug Abuse Summit on November 14, 2012 in Wytheville.   This no-cost event will raise awareness of the personal, social, criminal justice and economic cost of prescription drug abuse and produce a specific set of recommendations to combat the problem.  The event will feature speakers from law enforcement, drug treatment, prevention and education and from the economic development and business communities of Southwest Virginia.

  • At the Department of Justice, we are working with communities to support drug treatment courts, which have proven effective at reducing recidivism.  Specialty courts like the Washington County Drug Recovery Education and Monitoring (DREAM) Court are critical to true recovery for addicts.  These courts help substance abusing offenders get the resources they need to combat their addictions while also holding them accountable in a rigorous manner.  With the passage of Governor McDonnell’s 2012-2014 budget, seven additional drug courts in Southwest Virginia are ramping up or are underway. 

  • On September 29, 2012, our office will once again partner with the Drug Enforcement Administration and local prevention organizations to sponsor National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.  On that upcoming Saturday, there will be sites throughout the region for people to drop-off their unused, unwanted or expired prescription drugs. Locally, Roanoke Valley residents have dropped off more than 3,600 pounds of prescription drugs since 2010, a number higher than the state wide per capita.

  • Beginning September 23, 2012, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia will join all 94 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country to partner with Drugfree.org’s “Medicine Abuse Project.” This campaign aims to curb the abuse of medicine while encouraging parents and the public to take action. The primary focus of this initiative is to educate communities about the dangers of abusing prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

Our attorneys and staff are committed to this effort.  We will continue to look for creative solutions to this problem, in collaboration with our partners in the Western District of Virginia.

We hope you will join the effort to reduce addiction of misused prescription drugs by cleaning out your medicine cabinet on September 29 and joining us in Wytheville on November 14. Law enforcement alone will not solve this problem. A cooperative effort is needed to protect our families and communities from the devastation of prescription drug abuse.

Timothy J. Heaphy is United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia

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