5 News Investigates: Fighting Addiction

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UPSHUR COUNTY, W. Va. (WDTV) - There's no denying, the drug epidemic is affecting West Virginians all over the state, and law enforcement can remember in detail all the calls they receive just on drugs.

"A high percentage is influenced by drug usage," said Buckhannon Police Chief Matt Gregory.

Opioids, prescription drugs, heroin, meth have invaded Upshur County.

"Meth is really a big issue, problems with 10-15 years ago with labs and now we're seeing more crystal meth," he said.

He also says with drugs there's more crimes, and his numbers show.

In 2018, the most severe crime reported within city limits was shoplifting with 138 reported incidents, number two was larceny with 99 and third were drug offenses which was 85. It was about the same in 2017.

In April, Buckhannon Police joined forces with the Mountain Lakes Drug and Violent Crime Unit, with neighboring agencies like the Upshur County Sheriff's Department. From May until December 2018, they initiated 85 new investigations and in those seven months alone, they seized approximately $325,000 worth of drugs. They say surprisingly:

"They're all coming from points beyond West Virginia. The lower level dealers that are engaged in that activity have come from other areas," said Gregory.

All 11 current officers in the department have to go through extra training just for drugs. One is how to administer Narcan. They say it's gotten so bad that each officer now carries one dose of Narcan in each patrol car.

However, they say facing the law is not enough. So Buckhannon Police depends on local organizations as well, to provide those in need with a lending hand.

"We provide recovery/support services from anybody in the community who needs it we'll work with anybody at any stage of recovery," said Matt Kerner, Executive Director of Opportunity House.

While their headquarters is in the city, they are now expanding their program further into the county, as they say people in the more rural areas can't get the same access. one of their biggest problem is transportation.

"We're trying to build other 12 steps meetings developed in other parts of the county so that people who have transportation problems can still access meetings," said Kerner.

This means offering programs in local volunteer fire departments, and picking up people to attend the class. In order to make that happen, they depend on grants.

"With cooperative efforts and agencies, by the community coming together, just recently completed a federal grant application for $200,000," he said.

It doesn't stop there, the area also offers harm reduction programs...

"We give out fentanyl test kits, so since methamphetamine is being laced with fentanyl, this is where a lot of the overdoses are coming from so we can actually give test kits to patients," said Theresa Poling, who works with the harm reduction program.

And all three experts they agree, the drug of choice has shifted to meth. Even though more programs are emerging, drug usage hasn't slowed down like they want it to.

"For a small community, I've seen an increase quite a bit," said Gregory.

"I wouldn't say there's an increase or a decrease," said Kerner.

"I'm not seeing a trend in drugs reducing in this area," said Poling.