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Drugs in the Roanoke Valley


By Kaitlin Lertora


On Tuesday Feb. 16, a panel of three spokespeople discussed the use of recreational drugs in the Roanoke area.  The panel included Jacqueline F. Ward Talevi, a Virginia district judge, Tom Bowers, an attorney, and a counselor at Mount Regis Rehabilitation Center. The panel discussed the prominent issues concerning the use of hard drugs such as painkillers, cocaine, and heroin around Roanoke.

The panel answered various questions from the audience and offered information about their own experience in working with avid users. Talevi shared her struggles with cases involving the tough choice between putting someone behind bars versus keeping the community safe.

According to her, there are many variables that affect her decision-making choices. Bowers explained to the audience that Roanoke borders states with even higher drug usage rates than Virginia. She pointed out the state with the highest opioid and heroin death rate in the nation is West Virginia. This is because these drugs are readily accessible to people of any age who can afford to buy them.

Bowers also expressed concern about the dangers of regular marijuana use as it is thought to be a gateway to harder drugs. Gateway drugs are believed to ease the transition to more serious or hardcore drugs like cocaine, meth, and heroin. Cocaine users often begin with crack cocaine, which is considered more addictive than other forms of cocaine.

Bowers also discussed the dangers of bath salts (methylenedioxypyrovalerone). There are dozens of horror stories about people ingesting bath salts and going insane for hours or days on end. The adverse effects of ingesting chemicals like these could have be detrimental to a person’s long term mental and physical health.

The panel discussed issues concerning pharmaceutical companies and explained the problem with many psychiatrists’ methods of practice. The current trend is the preferred prescription of highly addictive painkillers for numerous diagnosis. This practice also serves as a gateway for some to want harder drugs.

If patients knew that some painkillers are essentially a less potent form of heroin, fewer may take them as regularly, if at all. Additionally, Bowers stated that many users will often mix drugs, whether they be different kinds of pills or injecting different kinds of opiates (morphine, heroin, etc.).

Interestingly enough, Bowers noted that most income for drug dealers was generated by the upper class in the past few years. If asked, most people believe the lower class of drugs (marijuana, alcohol) are the most prominent. However, the actual drug market over the past few years contradicts this notion.

The movie, Wolf of Wall Street, is one of the more accurate depictions of upper class, present day drug usage. Businessmen, doctors, and lawyers are becoming common occurrences on the drug scene – which is knocking the 80’s stereotypes (the Beat movement, Woodstock, etc.) of mild drug use out of the ballpark.

Despite the increase use within the white collar / professionals demographic, urban areas and big cities continue to struggle with drug use and abuse on the streets, not to mention having to deal with the correspondingly high crime rates.

Beyond activating regions of the brain responsible for the sensation of “reward,” another major factor in the high addiction rate of heroin is the recent trend in escalating purity levels. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, drug dealers would mix heroin with enough fillers to decrease its purity level to a purity rate of around 20%.

However, heroin today can be as high as 60% pure making it significantly harder for users to free themselves from the addiction. A heroin addiction is a lifetime struggle, and rehabilitation centers work hard to help users overcome their struggles. This discussion between the panel and the audience was informative and insightful.