The opioid epidemic is devastating our valley and will continue until we change the way we prosecute individuals suffering from addiction. My brother, James Steele, is running for Commonwealth’s Attorney in Roanoke County because he wants to do just that.
Addiction in any form is an illness that not only leaves addicted individuals suffering or dead, but also hurts families and our communities at large. The use, possession and sale of unprescribed opioids is a crime and should have consequences. But we must tailor those consequences to the crime and to the individual charged.
Our previous attempts at fighting addiction in our community have been ineffective. The United States incarcerates more individuals than any other developed nation. In Virginia, 80% of incarcerated individuals have a substance abuse problem that contributed to their criminality. Incarceration alone has not solved these substance addiction problems and likely never will.
I am a recent transplant to Roanoke, arriving from Bloomington, Indiana just a few weeks ago. Like Virginia, Indiana is struggling with the opioid epidemic and has a higher overdose rate. However, in the last year the overdose rate in Indiana dropped by 12% compared to a U.S. drop of 5%.
How? Indiana embraced treatment rather than punishment alone. To fight the epidemic, local sheriffs have started treatment programs within the jails and have helped inmates find treatment programs to enter immediately upon release. Similarly, in my previous position as a deputy prosecutor in Indiana, I negotiated agreements to help addicted individuals receive treatment. These agreements placed inmates in in-house treatment programs before release and in out-patient treatment facilities that utilized medically assisted treatment (MAT) after release to provide tools to fight their addictions. We can do the same thing here.
While it’s not the only solution to a multi-faceted problem, a good place to start making a change is in the Commonwealth’s Attorney election. The Commonwealth’s Attorney can help people suffering from substance abuse by tailoring sentencing and plea agreements to place people into medically assisted treatment, counseling, and behavioral therapies.
Elect James Steele as Commonwealth’s Attorney for Roanoke County. He has a plan.