By Joe Beck
Gov. Terry McAuliffe's rejection of a call for creation of a statewide task force on heroin shows the governor is "really going to miss the boat" in addressing the spread of the drug, U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Vienna, said Wednesday.
Wolf responded to a letter he received from McAuliffe that replied to a request for a task force from 12 of 13 members of the Virginia congressional delegation.
Wolf said the heroin problem reminded him of the spread of violent gangs in the state more than 10 years ago. The rise of gangs led to the creation of the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force, which oversaw law enforcement and social service initiatives aimed at curbing gang activity.
"This is going to be a big problem," Wolf said of the spread of heroin. "I think a lot of people are already dying. Let's get out in front of it."
McAuliffe's reply to Wolf on July 15 did not explicitly reject a statewide task force, but instead cited more than 30 drug-oriented task forces already coordinated by the state police.
"As you are aware (state police) special agent Jay Perry is the coordinator of the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug/Gang Task Force," McAuliffe wrote. "This task force identified the heroin problem over a year ago and has sponsored three heroin stakeholders' meetings in an attempt to educate the community and to help citizens realize that everyone in the community has to be a part of the solution."
Wolf said he welcomed plans by McAuliffe to call a state-level heroin summit to develop what the governor described as a "state policy agenda on this pressing matter."
"I think the governor obviously thinks it's a serious problem, so that's a good sign," Wolf said.
But Wolf said he wanted to know more details about the summit.
"Here it is late July and in August a lot of people are on vacation," Wolf said. "When is the summit? Before you do that, I think you need a statewide taskforce for all the regions."
Wolf said he is also supporting a request from the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug Task force that the northern Shenandoah Valley be designated a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
Congress created the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program to coordinate federal, state and local law enforcement activities in regions with high levels of drug trafficking.
Wolf said he hasn't received much constituent mail about the heroin problem, but he recalled not many people outside of law enforcement were talking about the gang problem 10 years ago.
A lack of public outcry is not a reason to delay action on the heroin problem, Wolf said.
"I think leadership is transformational," Wolf said. "It's getting out in front and doing something."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or email@example.com