- Apr 17
Chief Richards Presents Model Solution to Opioid Problem at National Conference
As part of the law enforcement response to the opioid epidemic, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) recently convened a high-level national strategy and information sharing meeting in New York City at New York Police Department Headquarters. The April 6th “Responding to the Opioid Epidemic” conference was attended by several hundred police chiefs, other law and drug enforcement leaders, and public health experts from across North America. Martinsburg Police Department Chief Maury Richards, a PERF member, was among 130 police chiefs in attendance and actively participated in the important meeting.
The PERF conference comes at a critical time for our country. The 52,000 drug overdose deaths in 2015 were a record high. Of these, opioids killed 33,000, more than any year in history. 2016’s statistics are projected to be higher. The Surgeon General reports that the total annual cost to our society from illicit drug use in health care, loss of labor productivity, and criminal justice now approaches $200 billion.
At the conference, local responses, particularly from areas hard hit by the crisis were discussed. West Virginia has the highest rate of opioid overdose deaths in the country, almost three times the national average. Addressing the conference, Chief Richards supported a multi-level strategy to effectively combat opioid abuse.
Richards observed that American law enforcement has embraced the common wisdom that we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem. A successful fight against illegal drugs must be simultaneously waged on three levels—enforcement, primarily focused on traffickers and drug dealers; treatment, increasing available options for addicted drug users seeking help; and prevention. While each component of this multi-level strategy is essential to mitigate the crisis, only effective prevention provides a long-term solution to drug supply, addiction, and abuse. “The problem of illegal drug use and the flood of opioids across our borders is essentially an economic equation. The simple fact is this: we will never reduce the supply of drugs unless we reduce the demand for drugs. However, until now, prevention has been the part of the solution that has remained the least discussed, utilized, and funded,” Chief Richards stated.
Chief Richards presented The Martinsburg Initiative to the conference, the groundbreaking heroin prevention program that is being spearheaded by a partnership between the Martinsburg Police Department, Berkeley County Schools, and Shepherd University. The initiative is focused on preventing and mitigating the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in children and families that result in drug addiction and other problems. The innovative prevention plan focuses on the local school as the vital link in saving children, strengthening families, and empowering communities. This police-school-family-community partnership is already underway in Martinsburg. Richards is proposing The Martinsburg Initiative as a national model for effective opioid prevention.
The Martinsburg Chief emphasized that the growing opioid problem confirms that prevention offers the only long-term solution to the problem. Chief Richards noted that every day across the country, 3,900 people use prescription pain killers non-medically for the first time and 600 people use heroin for the first time. Richards stated, “We will always lock up drug dealers and continue to increase treatment resources for people suffering with addiction, but enforcement and treatment alone will never solve this problem. A lot of resources are being thrown at the problem but the crisis is only getting worse. The only long-term cure for the opioid epidemic is to stop people from starting drug use in the first place, and that requires a prevention strategy that works. The Martinsburg Initiative is a model solution to a national problem.”