Once upon a time, drug abuse was something “others” dealt with. Now, chances are pretty good we all know someone affected.
I think it’s safe to say a large chunk of Madison County — especially in London — knew someone affected this week after checking out dozens of head shots published in The Madison Press website and print editions.
Shortly after sunrise on Wednesday, more than 50 members of various law enforcement offices charged through London, West Jefferson and Plain City seeking to arrest 31 people (perhaps even 34, officials thought at one point) on various drug charges. The individuals were secretly indicted last week by a Madison County grand jury.
The Madison County Drug Task Force orchestrated the raid, and invited The Madison Press along just hours before police took action. Reporter Jane Beathard and myself woke up before the birds Wednesday to meet law enforcement for the briefing.
I chugged as much coffee as possible during my 7-minute commute into London. I knew I had arrived at the correct location when I saw dozens of law enforcement vehicles — many with black paint, windows and rims — parked outside a building.
Inside, personnel from the U.S. Marshal’s office, Madison County Sheriff’s Office, London Police Department, West Jefferson Police Department, Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Madison County Prosecutor’s Office were gathering in a circle. Each were handed manila envelopes with photos, names and information about each indicted suspect. Sheriff Jim Sabin and London Police Chief Dave Wiseman called out orders, instructing the group how to safely and effectively carry out the raid.
I would be lying if I didn’t admit noticing how impressive the group appeared. I’ve seen many of the local folks around town at the grocery store, in various restaurants and at the county fair with their families, but today they were all dressed in full uniform with bulletproof vests, guns strapped around their thighs and hips and hats with “POLICE” across the front. Each face rested into the same emotionless stare.
Some of the deputy U.S. Marshals sported long beards and tattoos on their arms, necks and chests, and a couple even carried shields.
Talking quietly among themselves, they were each professional, cool and collected — ready to perform their job. While on an adrenaline rush, their minds are largely in a mechanical state, the police chief explained to me.
I, on the other hand, was extremely jittery — partially from nerves, partially from the sudden influx of caffeine. As if I didn’t already stand out enough in a dress blouse, trousers and Mary Jane heels with a Nikon strapped around my neck.
As a newspaper editor, these types of events are bittersweet. Of course, I knew the day’s event would be a huge story for us, generating increased page views, additional newspaper sales and attention to our company’s recently improved digital platforms. I shot photos and videos of the raid, and we had our first story and multi-media package published online by 10 a.m.
I was happy to know drug dealers and users would be arrested and taken off the streets — even just for a few hours before posting bail.
But, as a Madison County resident, it made me sad. So many people — most of which were in their 20s, like me — caught up in the battle of opiates, cocaine and prescription pills. It’s something I’ve seen many times before in my career.
After the morning’s chaos, I drove to West Jefferson that afternoon for an unrelated story. The 20-minute drive served as an opportunity for reflection. I thought about the various heroin-related stories I’ve written over the past few years — including one just a few months ago about a 50-year addict enjoying sobriety for the first time since the 1960s.
I remembered the young, elementary school-aged faces of some of my former classmates who are now drug addicts themselves with lengthy criminal histories. We had grown up in the same rural community outside South Vienna, learned from the same teachers and listened to the same music (bubble gum pop) up until high school. That’s when cliques formed and different life choices were made.
What happened to them?
An estimated 13.5 million people in the world take opioids (opium-like substances), including 9.2 million who use heroin, according to the Foundation for Drug-Free World.
Officials say everyone seems to have the same story: One suffers an injury and is prescribed a pain killer. Once the prescriptions run out, they turn to the street. But, eventually, the pills become too expensive, and the user makes the transition to heroin. In order to feed their habit, the user begins committing crimes — stealing credit cards, lying to their friends and family and living off the streets, even becoming dealers themselves.
Everyone is always “chasing that first high.” In order to feel the euphoria again, the user takes more and more. One day, the drug is a stronger batch than the others have been, and they don’t know it. That’s how overdoses happen. We hear it on the police scanner in our newsroom all the time, and so do other newsrooms across the country.
Wednesday’s raid is a start, but it’s going to take a lot more than law enforcement action to solve this problem. Sometimes, I wonder if it will ever be solved. The plague of addiction is upon us, and it’s not just the drug addict’s problem anymore. It’s our entire community’s problem.
Drugs are wrenching families apart, and we all have a reason to care.
Andrea Chaffin McKinney is the editor of The Madison Press. She can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 1619, firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter @AndeeWrites.