West Virginia Has a Drug Problem

By: Attorney/Delegate Andrew D. Byrd

We generally take time off work because we’re sick or have vacation. A few months ago, I took time off work for something completely different: a ride-along with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The goal was to observe a controlled drug purchase in West Virginia, and it was a day I won’t soon forget.

Drugs Red Lit Street Sign

The Ride-along: Unmarked Cars, Tails, and Crack Cocaine

Before we head out, we’re briefed on what to expect: about the target seller, the vehicle the target would be driving, and how the controlled drug purchase itself would go down. We’re given a picture of the target and told that an informant would make the purchase from their home (I was not permitted to meet the informant, in order to protect the informant’s identity). Following the briefing, we hop in an unmarked car with other agency members, in “undercover” plain-clothes. We travel to the location and wait.

As I anxiously sit in the unmarked car with the sound of the agency members’ voices over the radio, my thoughts go to reality TV. Yet when you’re doing this for real, it’s surreal. My heart is really pumping – you cannot help but feel the anticipation – as we wait for the target’s car to pull up.

Then it happens.

The car I observed during the briefing passes by. The target goes inside, comes out, gets back into the car, and drives off. We tail for a while to observe the target’s next move (which turns out to be a stop for gas), then make the trip back to the agencies’ satellite lab to see what the informant has.

Inside the lab: an agent dons rubber gloves, places a bag on the table, pulls out a wadded paper towel, unfolds the paper towel. Out falls a white rock. It’s white with a pale yellow hue. Crack. This is the first time I’ve seen crack cocaine up close.

To check its purity, agency members perform a test. If the rock turns blue or bluish-purple, it’s legit crack. The next thing I know, I’m staring at blue rock, and of course I’m seeing an image of Walter White and Jessie in “Breaking Bad,” the two characters on AMC’s infamous hit show, and their blue crystal (meth).

Here’s the image floating in my head:

Breaking Bad Characters Handling Meth in a Factory

West Virginia: Highest Number of Drug Overdose Deaths Per Capita

Here’s the deal: Even though you can know about drugs, hear about them on news stories, it’s generally hard to fathom what goes on during an average West Virginia day, if you do not have any other first- or second-hand experience.

You could learn, for example, that West Virginia has had the highest number of drug overdose deaths per capita (based on 2009-2013 data) in the entire U.S., with 33.5 deaths for every 100,000 people. (North Dakota, by way of comparison, had the lowest, with 2.6 per 100,000.)

You could also learn from first responders, firefighters and paramedics, who provide emergency medical treatment for people suffering from heroin overdose – and they provide this treatment most every single day on the job. I didn’t hear about heroin during my days in elementary school, sitting cross-legged through the D.A.R.E. program, but heroin is a bigger problem than most of us would like to believe.

My Goal as a Delegate: Comprehensive Drug Legislation

Some of you know that I was just elected to my first term in the West Virginia House of Delegates.

People from across the state have reached out to me about our drug problem, and while I am going around the state, speaking with law enforcement and first responders, I’d love to hear more from our citizens, especially those who are personally affected by the drug epidemic. You might know what it will take to combat it.

I Want to Hear From You

I am working on a comprehensive piece of legislation and could use your input. Please comment here or email us. You can also call (304) 449-3505.

Lastly, I’d like to thank the federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as emergency personnel and first responders, for all they do day in and day out. It’s time for all of us to work together to address West Virginia’s drug problem.

(Image credit: “Drugs” – https://flic.kr/p/6EKeq)
(Image credit: Scene from AMC’s Breaking Bad)

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