By Joe Beck
The spike in deaths from heroin overdoses in the Northern Shenandoah Valley in 2013 has led the Strasburg Police Department to set up checkpoints this weekend focused on finding heroin and other illegal drugs.
Police Chief Tim Sutherly said the checkpoints began Friday and will operate in the same manner as sobriety checkpoints long used by police to detect drunk drivers. Police will check licenses and registrations and conduct visual searches of vehicles, he said. If they spot anything suspicious, a dog trained to sniff for drugs will be called in to walk around the vehicle.
The police will be looking first for heroin in an effort to stem the influx of the highly addictive drug into the area.
"It's been documented we've had 16 heroin-related deaths in our region, and that's just the ones we know about," Sutherly said, referring to Frederick, Warren, Shenandoah, Page and Clarke counties. "We're just trying to do whatever we can to nip this thing in the bud."
Sutherly said the checkpoints will continue to be used sporadically at undisclosed locations throughout the town.
"A lot will depend on the information we acquire," Sutherly said.
Sutherly said the department is also planning other anti-heroin initiatives. Residents in neighborhoods and living along roads where police suspect heroin is being sold or used can expect to see more police patrols, he said.
Sutherly said he also wants to expand the department's drug drop off program, now conducted in the spring and fall every year, for those wishing to dispose of legal or illegal drugs. Sutherly said he wants to establish a place where drugs can be dropped off on a regular basis.
"We're just in the initial phase of looking into that," he said.
Sutherly said the heroin problem was especially evident earlier this year when an elderly Strasburg woman was tied up and terrorized in the middle of the night by an intruder who ransacked her home. Police arrested Sean Thomas Hall, 22, of 715 Capon Road, weeks later. He is facing charges of abduction by force or intimidation, burglary and several related offenses in circuit court.
Sutherly cited a need to feed a heroin addiction as Hall's motive in the burglary and subsequent attempts to resell the stolen merchandise.
"That's when we first started noticing it," Sutherly said of the heroin problem. "But since then, there's been an increase in heroin activity, and not just in Strasburg."
Sutherly said the anti-heroin initiatives are new and will be followed closely to see if they are effective.
"We never really felt the need for something like this, but we've never faced these types of issues," Sutherly said of the spread of heroin. "We're going to try whatever we think might work and weed out what doesn't work and continue with what does."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org