By Joe Beck
The rate of drug cases investigated in Shenandoah County in 2013 rose by 36 percent over 2012, according to statistics released this week by the Virginia State Police.
The statistics are part of the state police's annual crime report that contains statewide data on 22 of the most serious categories of crime and another 12 categories deemed less severe. The report also breaks down the data by county and town police agencies.
The number of drug cases spawned in Shenandoah County is consistent with frequent public comments from authorities throughout 2013 about a sharp rise in opiate-based drugs, including heroin, that has fueled an increase in overdose deaths and illnesses.
The Sheriff's Office and state police investigated a total of 337 drug and narcotic offenses in 2013 compared to 248 in 2012. Shenandoah County authorities recorded 242 drug-related arrests last year after making 192 arrests in 2012, according to the state police data.
Sheriff Timothy C. Carter estimated 42 percent of the county's drug cases involve prescription drugs and another 30 percent are from heroin. Both drugs are opiate-based with prescription drugs believed to often be a precursor to heroin.
Carter repeated earlier warnings from other law enforcement officials that medical professionals and social service agencies and educators have important roles to play in curbing the spread of opiate drug abuse.
"What it shows the lay person is that we are making cases, and we are making arrests but at the same time we're seeing overdose injuries increase, and we're seeing deaths increase," Carter said. "So it's not just an enforcement issue."
Shenandoah County's overall number of criminal incidents per 100,000 population dropped slightly to 3,202 compared to 3,239 in 2012, according to the state police. The rate of incidents per 100,000 is based on a total of 1,068 criminal incidents of all types in 2013 spread among a countywide population 25,982
Warren County's rate of crime per 100,000 fell from 3,176 in 2012 to 2,714 in 2013. The county's number of drug cases also held fairly steady at 443, only a few more than the 422 recorded in 2012.
As with other area jurisdictions, drugs, simple assault and vandalism were the county's leading crime categories.
Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron cautioned citizens and public officials against reading too much into yearly changes in crime statistics.
"There are all kinds of reasons why the numbers go up and down," McEathron said. "Cases are closed out and charges brought from one year to the next. A lot of these cases overlap."
Front Royal led all jurisdictions with 8,284 criminal incidents per 100,000 population in 2013, far exceeding the second highest total of 5,336 in Stephens City.
The totals in other towns were: 5,124 for Woodstock; 3,084 for Middletown; 3,266 in Mount Jackson; 2,159 in New Market, 3,451 in Strasburg and 2,751 Edinburg.
Front Royal Police Chief Norman Shiflettt said the incident total of 1,215 in Front Royal was only a small part of the more than 16,000 total calls for service to Front Royal police in 2012.
"That might explain some of those figures," Shiflett said of the high number of incidents per 100,000.
Shiflett said a dramatic surge in population from the workers at the new power plant site may also have contributed to the number of incidents in Front Royal.
"We've dealt with a lot of people coming into this area working on the construction site, and their behavior just followed them into Front Royal," Shiflett said.
Shiflett added he wasn't "picking on" the power plant workers, "but it is what it is."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org