West Virginia, Ohio Attorneys General Work to Curb Drugs in the Ohio Valley
DeWine, Morrisey ask for community help
WHEELING — The attorneys general in Ohio and West Virginia are seeking the help of churches and faith-based organizations to assist in counseling drug offenders as problems with heroin and opioid addiction continue to escalate in both states.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey hosted the town hall-style meeting “Taking Back Our Communities: Combating the Opiate Epidemic,” Thursday at the Covenant Community Church in Wheeling. A major topic discussed was the role churches can play in providing guidance to those addicted to drugs, while also helping them to refrain from drug use and repeating crimes often associated with drug addiction.
During one panel discussion, Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger acknowledged many in law enforcement doubt the effectiveness of drug treatment sentences for drug offenders, as they often see and arrest the same individuals for the same drug-related crimes on a daily basis.
“There is a lot of talk about treatment — but I think I believe more in education and prevention,” he said. “I think we need to really hone in on that with our children — particularly in our schools. Maybe schools can provide some of that guidance. Maybe churches can provide some of that guidance.
“But as a law enforcement professional, I would be the first to admit there is a level of cynicism that we experience because of the repeated observations and situations we find ourselves in. Many police officers — me not being one of them — will sit up here and tell you drug treatment is failing…. They don’t recognize the folks they are seeing over and over again are ones who have not succeeded in treatment.”
There are success stories, but police officers need to see and hear that, Schwertfeger said. As a leader of a law enforcement, he said he has to focus on “creating a culture” that recognizes there can be successes.
Morrissey said there is “no substitute” for the result that can come from bringing churches together to combat drug abuse. He quoted one study showing that among inmates participating in a prison Bible study class, just 15 percent later committed additional crimes and returned to prison.
“If we could considerably cut down the recidivism rate for a number of these individuals, not only would you reduce the drug problem, you would cut down on overcrowding in prisons as well,” he said. “Other studies have shown that religious faith is associated with increased levels of optimism, reduced stress, greater social support and lower levels of anxiety.”
Morrisey said he has made the issue of drug abuse his top consumer protection priority within the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office. A five-member investigative unit has been assembled to combat drug-related crimes, and more resources have been invested to educate the public about the perils of drug abuse.
“We’re focused on enforcement, but we have to remain focused on the demand side of this as well,” he said. “This is where faith-based treatment comes into play.”
DeWine said there actually has been a “change in culture” that has led to an increase in heroin and opiate addictions across his state. In past decades, even the most hardened drug dealers and users stayed away from heroin, believing its effects to be too extreme.
The psychological barriers that once kept people from using heroin have now eroded, according to DeWine.
“The two attorneys general here today are not going to solve this problem,” he said. “The sheriffs I see here today are not going to solve it. The chiefs are not going to solve it. It’s going to have to come from each community…”
And the communities that have made the progress in combating drug abuse are those where the business community, the schools, law enforcement, service groups and especially faith-based groups have stepped forward and worked together, he said.
“There is a reason we hold these meetings in churches,” DeWine said. “It’s a symbol, but I think it’s so important. I think the ministers, priests and rabbis — people who are in church each Sunday and looking out at that congregation, have that ability to relate to the tragedy they find. There are very few churches who do not have someone who has suffered some tragedy, or the loss of someone, or have someone who is in recovery, with regard to drugs. That coming together makes a difference.”