WHEELING, W.Va. — Two people die from a drug overdose every week in Brooke County, a retired probation officer says.
And that sobering statistic, said Circuit Judge David Sims, is proof that the war on drugs has failed across the country.
Sims’ comments came Wednesday during a gathering at the Federal Building in Wheeling when U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld announced the creation of a multi-faceted Ohio Valley Addiction Action Plan Working Group.
The group is comprised of representatives from all corners of the area, including criminal justice personnel, business leaders, legislators, educators, health care professionals and news media.
“Heroin has a grip on the Ohio Valley and we are trying to loosen that grip,” said U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld. “Our primary goal is to save lives.”
Ihlenfeld, who co-chairs the group with Sims, said the newly-formed group has been in operation since July and will present a final addiction action plan to the community in December. Subcommittee meetings will continue throughout the fall.
According to Ihlenfeld, the goals of the group include preventing people from using heroin, helping treat those who have become addicted and choking off the supply of heroin to the region.
“Drug abuse has become a public health crisis in the region and so we’ve gathered passionate and talented leaders from multiple disciplines to push back against addiction,” he said. “This is a problem that impacts everyone in the Valley in some way and so we must work together.”
Sims stressed the importance of collaboration when taking on a task of this nature.
“The war on drugs has failed,” he said. “It has become clear to me through my work as a judge that a multi-pronged approach is necessary if we’re going to loosen the tight grip that addiction has upon our communities.”
Retired probation officer James Lee said sending people to jail and prison is not the answer.
“These people must be treated so they can be returned to their families and the community,” he said. “Two people die each week in Brooke County of drug overdose.
Heather Ziegler, associate city editor at The Intelligencer and News-Register, is a member of the news media subcommittee that has been working to devise ideas to reach the public with poignant messages about illegal drug use.
“As members of the media, we see the effects that illegal drug use has on our communities every time we pick up a police report or read an obituary,” she said.