By Wendy Holdren
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin joined the Beckley Rotary Club meeting Tuesday at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center to discuss how his office is working to solve crime problems in southern West Virginia and how community leaders can help.
In solving crime problems, Goodwin said there are three important steps: be proactive, constantly adapt and find solutions outside of law enforcement.
In his nearly 12 years as a prosecutor and three as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, he said law enforcement must look at the community and figure out how crime is hurting people.
“We must constantly adapt because criminals are constantly adapting. We have to keep our eyes open and our ears to the ground and know what the competition is doing.”
He said solutions must also be found outside of law enforcement, such as how crimes can be prevented in the first place.
Goodwin noted the many prescription drug and fraudulent scheme crimes his office works to prosecute.
“Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic. West Virginia has the highest rate of drug overdose death, killing more people per year than car accident deaths.”
Goodwin said this epidemic is affecting all socioeconomic backgrounds, and although his office has successfully prosecuted nearly 200 prescription drug dealers, the state is still in crisis mode.
Seniors are particularly at risk, he said, because of having needed medications at home and they are physically more vulnerable.
“The medical community is making great strides, but we have a lot more work to do. It is critical to win this war.”
While Goodwin has prosecuted a number of physicians over the years, he said it is extremely difficult.
“It takes a great deal of resources to do so.”
He said a very small fraction of doctors transition from prescribing narcotics because of “medical necessity” to becoming “pill mills.”
If doctors ensure they see the patient, make sure the patient is only visiting one doctor and one pharmacy, and make sure they follow up with the patients, doctors can avoid becoming a “pill mill.”
Raleigh County Memorial Airport Manager Tom Cochran asked if Goodwin felt that methadone clinics were helping the problem or just making it worse.
“Whether it’s working, I’m not sure,” Goodwin replied. “But we do need greater levels of treatments available. There are not nearly enough.”
Goodwin said community members can help fight this epidemic in several ways.
First, get unwanted medications out of your home. Drug Take Back Days are offered in April and September each year and local police departments collect unwanted medications year-round.
“If they’re not there, they can’t be abused.”
Second, Goodwin said to identify those who need help and get them help.
“It doesn’t get better without intervention.”
He also noted the number of fraudulent schemes that have been tricking people out of their hard earned money.
“We try to prosecute these cases when we find them, but many hide behind fake e-mails. It’s impossible to get that money back.”
He urged community leaders to reach out, be proactive and talk to their friends, neighbors and family members about the issues.
By identifying problems and communicating concerns to law enforcement, Goodwin said we can make serious strides.
“Strong communities can fight these problems.”
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