MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The new U.S. Attorney for Northern West Virginia says he’s going to attack the region’s drug problem.

During an appearance last week on MetroNews “Talkline,” Bill Powell said he plans on increasing prosecutions against those who deal illegal drugs.

“I’m not interested in going after the customer for heroin but I am interested in prosecuting pretty harshly the people who bring it into this state and deal it here,” Powell said.

The long arm of prosecution will reach into more non-traditional areas, according to Powell.

“I just want to put people on notice. The fact that you wear a white coat or work in a company is not going to be protection for you if, in fact, you are distributing opioids in a way they shouldn’t be distributed. That’s going to be an emphasis for us,” he said.

Powell was nominated to the position by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. His career includes work in both southern West Virginia and the Eastern Panhandle. He’s also had experience in county prosecution.

Powell said the challenges are great in the Northern District with heroin coming into the Eastern Panhandle from Baltimore and into the Wheeling area from Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. He said there’s a much bigger meth problem in the area than he realized especially around Clarksburg. The meth is coming from Mexico. The wildcard is fentanyl, Powell said.

“It’s a game changer for law enforcement and no one has a handle on it,” he said. “Nobody knows what they are getting in fentanyl. It comes from a different place. The potency is so strong it can kill you quickly.”

Powell believes one way to battle the epidemic is to jumpstart Project Safe Neighborhoods.

“We want to talk to local enforcement and identify what’s commonly referred to as the alpha criminal or the real problem areas within these neighborhoods and put significant resources into those areas,” Powell said.

There need to be more resources for treatment and rehabilitation efforts, he said.

“Jail is not the best place for rehab for folks if they aren’t dealers and aren’t violent. I’m 100 percent behind those efforts,” Powell said.

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