© 2023 WMRA and WEMC
WMRA : More News, Less Noise WEMC: The Valley's Home for Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Is the Shenandoah Valley a target for methamphetamines?

Methamphetamines have become the drug most commonly seized by law enforcement in our area in recent years. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

The Blue Ridge Court Services' Population and Crime Data report can be read as a diary of the interactions between the drug trade and local law enforcement throughout the years. For example, take methamphetamine busts in the Middle River Regional Jail footprint – that's the five localities of Staunton, Augusta, Waynesboro, Harrisonburg, and Rockingham.

A chart, created by Post Baccalaureate Fellow Telijah Fitch, shows just a few instances of meth being seized in 2001, which creeps up to a short peak in '05. The activity dies back down. Then, in 2012, it starts inching up again – until it's skyrocketing up through the end of the data in 2018.

DAVE PASTORS: What the data is showing to us is that more individuals are using methamphetamine, and that methamphetamine is much more readily available than it was in the past.

Dave Pastors directed Blue Ridge Court Services for more than two decades, retired, and then came back as their criminal justice planner.

PASTORS: Things like prescription drugs and cocaine are far, far below what the activity is with methamphetamines.

Albemarle County is starting to trend in that direction, too. A report from the Jefferson Area Community Criminal Justice Board found that meth busts there began increasing in 2014, and in 2018, they outnumbered cocaine for the first time. And Nelson County saw a sharp spike in seizures of meth and club drugs such as Ecstasy or acid. Charlottesville is an outlier, though – during the same time period, it remained dominated by cocaine and some opioids.

We don't know definitively if the valley's methamphetamine renaissance has held true through the pandemic, but based on the observations of one law enforcement officer with the Skyline Drug Task Force, which primarily operates in Staunton and Augusta County –

OFFICER: The poundage levels are up. They are up.

We've agreed to withhold his name due to the nature of his work.

OFFICER: The drug smugglers, that is their job is to figure out how to get things here, and they've done a really good job. … Unfortunately, when we're low on numbers and they're high on numbers, the cards are not in our favor. But we do the best we can with what we have.

He noted that the number of times meth is seized in a given year depends on how productive local drug task forces have been, and he said that doesn't take into account how much of the drug was found in a single bust.

OFFICER: Some guys enjoy working long-term investigations that may only result in two seizures over the course of five months, but they may be very large seizures.

Pastors said that, while investigations have shown that most of the meth used here is coming all the way from Mexico, it's very pure – meaning it hasn't been cut with other substances along the way.

PASTORS: I believe that it's saying that the Shenandoah Valley is maybe a target area.

I asked the officer why he thought that might be, and he said one contributing factor was the interstate system.

OFFICER: They can get from Richmond to Staunton relatively easy … You can go from Roanoke to Winchester on 81 relatively easy. If you want to go to West Virginia, you just hop across the mountain.

Additionally –

OFFICER: There's a lot of work here and people have money, and when people have money they can buy things. And it doesn't matter whether you're buying brand new cars or houses or drugs. If you have money, you can buy stuff. You go into the Appalachias (sic) of West Virginia and Tennessee and North Carolina and Virginia, and they have more of a pill problem because folks down there have medical conditions and they're getting prescribed pills. They don't have the money to buy methamphetamine.

This officer has been on the drug task force since 2016, and said that since then, the cost of meth has come down, and it's become easier for dealers and users to connect via social media.

OFFICER: The drug trade has evolved, and they have figured out different ways to smuggle and get it here and to get it around.

These trends, of course, affect who gets sent to our local jails, and why. According to Pastors' report, Middle River bookings for all narcotics offenses went up 68% from 2010 to 2019. A booking is an individual charge leveled at the time of intake – people being taken to Middle River had an average of two-and-a-quarter charges each in 2019.

And according to the Blue Ridge Court Services' annual report, nine people were inducted into the Staunton, Augusta, and Waynesboro Drug Court in 2021 – eight of them for methamphetamine use.

PASTORS: Meth is a highly addictive substance and it's tough to get off of once you're on it.

In a follow-up report, WMRA speaks with drug treatment and recovery specialists, including one person who has recovered from meth use.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.