Smith Township Police Chief Bernie LaRue, left, and Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone participate in a discussion of the opioid epidemic impacting the township and county on Oct. 13. -- Summer Wallace-Minger
The couple attended the September Smith Township Supervisor meeting to bring attention to the drug epidemic in the area, which resulted in a meeting hosted by the Smith Township Police Department and Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone on Oct. 13.
acknowledged the opioid addiction epidemic has struck the county hard, calling the city of Washington a "bull's-eye" in the center of Interstate highways used to transport drugs from Chicago and Columbus throughout the Tri-State Area, including Weirton, W.Va.; Wheeling, W.Va.; and Steubenville, Ohio.
"We are actually supplying (the Weirton-Steubenville area) right now," Vittone
"I know how close (Smith Township) is to (U.S. Route) 22 - you are getting it from all angles."
encouraged residents to use the Drug Task Force hotline to report suspicious activity.
, front line information from residents remains important, Vittone
"We have gotten good arrests based on information we were given," he
said, noting patrols and undercover police work are increased on the basis of information coming through the hotline.
Heroin and prescription opioids have become an issue over the past decade and officials still are reacting to the epidemic, Vittone
plan to reduce drug addiction in the community, including coming down on drug dealers, treating addicts and educating the public.
A new law now allows for a 20-year sentence for providing drugs that cause an overdose, he
noted nonviolent addicts frequently became dealers after incarceration and that the county is in need of a treatment facility.
"(Incarceration) just creates a better dealer," he
Naloxone, used to treat overdoses, is now available to first responders through the county - the program funded through money forfeited through drug dealers, Vittone
"Our first responders were asking for this," Vittone
"It saves lives."
New good Samaritan laws allow those who call 9-1-1 to report an overdose to avoid prosecution on simple possession and paraphernalia charges.
"Please call 9-1-1," Vittone
"We don't want to mess with you, we just want to save lives.
Our job is to save lives and protect lives.
We aren't going to arrest you.
A lot of people are on probation, and they just leave (someone who has overdosed)."
also stressed the importance of proper disposal of unused prescription medications, available through 20 area police departments with no questions asked.
Prescription medications accounted for 57 percent of drug overdose deaths in the county over the past five years.
added a prescription database would be helpful in stopping "doctor shopping," or collecting multiple prescriptions for sale, but funding for such a database is hung up at the state level.
However, the drug task force is working on the local level with pharmacists.
Drug addiction isn't only impacting the county's young people - 51 percent of deaths in the county were people age 40 and over.
"We had a person as old as 78 overdose," Vittone