By Sgt. Andrew Shingler, West Virginia State Police
As the War on Drugs continues, we realize that is an unintentional mischaracterization given to law enforcement by policy makers to work under. This is not a war. Wars ultimately end. This struggle to combat the drug epidemic is ongoing. The only thing that stays consistent is the shift from a drug to a stronger, more powerful, and additive drug. That drug currently, is fentanyl.
Fentanyl is one of the most powerful synthetic opiate-based drugs currently available, 100 times more powerful than morphine and 50 times more than heroin for comparison. In 2021, fentanyl accounted for most of the drug overdoses in central West Virginia and across the United States as well. Speaking specifically for Braxton County, in years past, when illicit/illegal heroin sales were up, methamphetamine was down. The reverse, in fact, was also true. However, due to its capability to be combined effectively with other drugs, fentanyl has bridged that gap. Starting in 2018, fentanyl was being mixed in with both heroin and methamphetamine for sale locally. The percentage of fentanyl slowly rising from 20% in already established product to 90%-100% as of the end of 2022. Fentanyl is cheaper (selling for an average of $100.00 per gram), in high form, it is stronger and can last longer than its two largest competitors. The drug routes into our county are easy ones. I-79 and US Rt. 19 make Braxton an open market for the distribution of this drug, which based on current investigations, seem to stem from the Huntington and Charleston areas, by way of Detroit, Michigan, with much of its origins stemming from Mexico.
Law enforcement efforts to combat the distribution and use of this drug varies. The West Virginia State Police, The Braxton County Sheriff’s Office and officers from the local municipalities have stepped up their efforts in the detection and seize these drugs by patrols and undercover buys utilizing confidential informants. Despite these efforts, fentanyl makes its way into our community. Officers now carry Naloxone, commonly referred to as Narcan, which when distributed properly, can completely or partially reverse an opioid overdose. With accidental overdosing on the rise, it isn’t uncommon for officers and medical personnel to arrive on scene where a child has had contact with this drug.
Fentanyl is normally prescribed to be taken into the body by injection, nasal spray, or transdermal patch. However, other methods exist such ingestion, mixed with other drugs, made into capsules, or by absorption through the skin. The most recent disturbing trend is the altering of vaping devices by injecting fentanyl and other illegal drugs into the vaping liquids.
Common side effects from the use of fentanyl range from nausea, vomiting, dry mouth to the more serious as hypoventilation (respiratory depression), hallucinations and death.
Please remember this drug epidemic is not just a police problem; it is a whole community problem. Only by working together can we hope to have a positive outcome. This is not a victimless crime. Braxton County citizens are losing family members and loved ones to this growing problem. None of us are immune.
If you have any information regarding the illegal use of this drug or any other, please contact the West Virginia State Police at 304-765-2101, the Braxton County Sheriff’s Office at 304-765-3308 or your local police. All information will be kept confidential.
Sgt. Andrew Shingler is a Senior Investigator with the West Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations