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Morrisey talks opioids, drug trafficking during Parkersburg visit

Morrisey listens intently to concerns from Vienna Police Chief Mike Pifer. (Photo by Jenna Pierson)

PARKERSBURG — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey visited the Judge Black Annex on Monday to contribute to a roundtable discussion with local law enforcement officials pertaining to the opioid epidemic.

The conversation was precipitated in light of U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas’ Biden-era decision to terminate the Migrant Protection Protocols Program, which was implemented by former President Donald Trump and created stricter policies on illegal immigration.

“It didn’t get much attention from a drug trafficking perspective,” Morrisey said. “Everyone is focusing on asylum and migration and no one is talking about drugs. That is one of the biggest impacts of the policy change coming from President (Joe) Biden.”

Wood County Sheriff Steve Stephens and Vienna Police Chief Mike Pifer were present to discuss local area concerns pertaining to drug use and how issues stemming from the drug epidemic can be addressed on both a micro-county level and macro-state level through legislative resources.

“Columbus, Ohio, has generally been our source city,” Pifer said. “We have traced some sources back when we get to Columbus directly back to the cartel … it’s not a secret of how it gets here, but rather how we can disrupt that flow.”

Both Stephens and Pifer cited an increase of methamphetamine in the area, as well as the continued troubling rates of heroin and fentanyl.

“Demand remains high in Wood County,” Pifer said. “We have to stay vigilant attempting to fight that from a very young age … it has become more prevalent and driven the price down, and I think the change from prescription opioids to fentanyl or heroin or whatever is happening faster.”

According to the Attorney General’s office, the most recent data indicated that overdose deaths from fentanyl increased by 87 percent in West Virginia between 2019 and 2020.

“We know the numbers are moving in the wrong direction,” Morrisey said.

On a local level, according to data from Stephens, as of June 1 there had been 122 overdose calls in Wood County in 2021 with 18 confirmed deaths.

When discussing root causes, Morrisey mentioned major bankruptcy cases regarding legal drug distribution that West Virginia has been involved with, including the Purdue Pharmaceuticals settlement that is currently at $81 million and the recent filing for Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, both of which have played major roles in the nationwide opioid crisis.

“We are continuing to press for more, because we think that the settlement needs to be dictated based on the severity of harm that occurred to a state and not based on population,” Morrisey said. “The good news from your perspective is that we have been talking with the counties and cities as we negotiate. If we can reach an agreement, and we will work with the Legislature as well, that may mean an opportunity for a recovery fund, which will then be able to distribute resources statewide.”

Holistically, Morrisey explained that these funds would be used for recovery facilities, as well as law enforcement and preventative education in an effort to reduce drug-related crime and harm.

“I think we are pretty well flushed with rehab facilities in Wood County,” Stephens said, as he cited the increase of those who do not complete the program successfully ending up homeless in the area, including those who are brought into the facilities from other areas of the state. “Wood County has become the threshold for everybody.”

A recent statistic indicates that approximately 25 percent of all recovery beds in the state of West Virginia are located in Wood County, according to Pifer, and many of these facilities can follow their own policies due to being privatized.

Both Pifer and Stephens emphasized that any potential funds that would be allocated to the area would be well used in establishing recovery program mandates that encourage accountability of completion for patients in order to reduce these increasing rates of homelessness and crime.

“We want them to finish as much as anybody and for them to come out of this,” Pifer said. “Rehabilitation is fantastic as long as it is managed correctly.”

Jenna Pierson can be reached at jpierson@newsandsentinel.com

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