Wheeling, West Virginia experienced a dramatic rise in violent crime and drug offenses last year — and the two may be connected. In 2012, the Wheeling police department investigated 33 “forcible sex offenses,” which amounted to more than twice the number in 2011. Likewise, robbery and weapons crimes had spiked compared to the previous year. The police also investigated 214 drug crimes, an increase of 45% since last year.
Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Shwertfeger believes that the rise in violent crime is related to the increase in drug abuse both in West Virginia and across the Ohio Valley. Currently, West Virginia has the highest rate of death from drug overdose in the United States. Yet police enforcement might not be enough to battle the epidemic. Already West Virginia prisons and jails are overcrowded, in part, due to people being jailed for drug crimes.
Instead, Chief Shwertfeger thinks that a more comprehensive approach needs to be taken. One is already being applied: drug treatment programs in lieu of a prison sentence. However, drug pipelines also need to be closed, and federal funding for law enforcement and public health needs to be directed toward drug abuse.
In West Virginia, the drugs most frequently used and/or manufactured include methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine, crack, ecstasy, and pharmaceutical drugs. Crack cocaine tends to be used by low or lower-middle income people, while cocaine sources are more varied and based on the trafficker’s location. Methamphetamine is frequently manufactured in West Virginia homes and has increased threefold over the past several years. Marijuana is both locally cultivated and imported, and ecstasy can be easily obtained in the area around West Virginia University. The state also has a series of pill mills where licensed doctors write prescriptions for drugs in exchange for money, regardless of whether the patient has an illness that could be treated by that drug.
The crime and drug problem are also quite likely linked to poverty — West Virginia has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation, rising to 16.9% in 2011 compared to 15.1% across the entire country. It is clear that economic needs must be addressed as well as drug treatment needs. And as Chief Shwertfeger noted, the solution cannot always be a prison sentence. Obviously if the drug abuse is attached to a violent crime, then prison is appropriate, but not when the law breaking is solely drug related.
That is why if you have been arrested for using drugs, you need to hire an experienced West Virginia criminal defense attorney. A criminal defense attorney will be able to defend your rights, and through plea bargaining, may very well be able to get you probation and drug treatment instead of prison. That is very important because some people just need rehabilitation and a fresh start. Yet too often people are provided with poor representation — such as an overworked public defender — who does not utilize every option that is available, so the individual ends up going to prison needlessly. Finding the right criminal defense attorney can make all the difference.