Governor joins bid for more anti-heroin funds

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has lent his support to efforts to have the area designated as a place of high intensity drug trafficking, a categorization that could bring more federal money to counter rampaging heroin addiction.

McAuliffe’s letter to Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, spells out the grim data of the heroin trade in Winchester and the counties of Frederick, Shenanadoah and Warren, the same jurisdictions that would be included in the high trafficking area designation.

The number of overdose deaths in the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force jurisdiction has risen from one in 2012 to 30 in 2015 and 21 so far this year. The 215 heroin-related arrests recorded in 2015 were about four times higher than in 2012, the year heroin began showing up in noticeable amounts.

“While the region is working diligently to defend the community against further increases in heroin-related deaths and arrests through the collaboration of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition and Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force, further aid is required to ensure continued success,” McAuliffe wrote.

The designation being sought would incorporate the area into the larger Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Region. An area in southwest Virginia centered on Roanoke and the state’s Washington, D.C., suburbs already carry the designation.

The program, which passed Congress in 1988, is intended to encourage more cooperation and intelligence sharing between federal, state and local agencies, increase intelligence capabilities for law enforcement activities and pay for drug use prevention and treatment initiatives.

Brian Moran, Virginia’s Director of Public Safety and Homeland Security, said that several local law enforcement officers asked him for state help last year in obtaining the high drug trafficking designation.

Moran said he has also been “very impressed” by the work done by the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition in responding to the heroin epidemic. The organization wanted help in its efforts to obtain the high drug trafficking area designation.

“We obviously took their request for help in this designation very seriously,” Moran said.

An announcement from the federal government on areas chosen for the high drug trafficking area designation is expected later this year.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com