Pubdate: Wed, 13 May 2015
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2015 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC.
Author: Tammie Smith


Galax Police Chief Rick Clark Jr. has been in law enforcement for 
about 40 years, long enough to make observations about effective 
crimefighting policies.

Locking up drug addicts is one policy that has not worked out so 
well, said Clark, who is serving on the Governor's Task Force on 
Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse that met Tuesday in Richmond.

Clark said he is seeing children and grandchildren of people he 
arrested years ago in his Southwest Virginia city get arrested and 
prosecuted for the same sort of drug offenses their parents did.

"We've been a dismal failure. We've missed the mark," Clark said.

"I don't think we can throw money at it. Obviously we have not 
arrested our way out of this," Clark said, repeating the sentiment of 
Virginia Beach Police Chief James Cervera, who is also a member of 
the 32-member task force.

"We had a war on drugs. We've lost miserably," Cervera said. "That's 
the best I can tell you." Cervera said he agreed with fellow task 
force member Michael Herring, Richmond's commonwealth's attorney, 
that effective enforcement will require a different mindset.

The task force, which has held meetings since September, is 
submitting an interim report with recommendations to Gov. Terry 
McAuliffe today. Dr. William Hazel, Virginia secretary of health and 
human resources, and Brian Moran, secretary of public safety and 
homeland security, are cochairs of the task force.

McAuliffe stopped by briefly during the meeting Tuesday in the 
General Assembly Building to thank committee members for their work.

"Heroin and prescription drug abuse have really reached epidemic 
proportions here in the commonwealth," McAuliffe said. "Deaths from 
prescription overdoses have doubled in the last 15 years. Deaths from 
heroin overdoses doubled in the last two years.

"The problem has put additional burdens on the law enforcement 
community as well as the health care costs of emergency and 
long-term-care treatment. It's so important that we stop the increase 
in addiction and overdose and reverse this very terrible trend."

The task force has divided its workload among five groups composed of 
more than 90 people who have expertise in treatment, data and 
prescription drug monitoring, drug storage and disposal, law 
enforcement, and educating the public and providers about addiction 
and drug abuse.

The task force's work has also included backing five bills and one 
study resolution considered during the 2015 General Assembly session. 
Bills that passed include House Bill 1458, which increased access to 
naloxone, a drug that can reverse a heroin overdose, and House Bill 
1738, which requires hospices to notify pharmacies when a patient who 
has been getting prescriptions for painkillers has died.

Herring said there needs to be more education about changing 
policies, such as the recently enacted "good Samaritan" law intended 
to help drug users who overdose. As drug users often use in groups, 
if one overdoses, the others might not call 911 for help because of 
the risk of getting arrested.

"This law allows an individual to call for help, and in the event the 
caller is charged on the basis of an officer's observation ... then 
that person can assert an affirmative defense that he or she was not 
the dealer," Herring said.

"It's not immunity. You have to plead it. You have to in essence say, 
'I assume the facts as charged, but this is in fact why I am not 
guilty,'" Herring said.

The task force's next meeting is June 16. It was scheduled to 
complete its work by the end of June, but Hazel said work will 
continue through September.

"There is so much to do that we felt we needed the additional time," Hazel said.
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