Martinsville police chief touts faith community in wake of city's huge opioid decrease

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MARTINSVILLE (WSLS 10) - Martinsville Police Chief Sean Dunn says the city's faith community has been instrumental in helping reduce the opioid and heroin problem in the city.

In February, Chief Dunn announced at a news conference that in January the Martinsville-Henry County area ranked as the number one area in the state for opioid and heroin overdoses.

The area ranked seventh in November and rose to fourth in December.

The latest report released by the Virginia Department of Health, however, shows that the area dropped to eleventh in the state in February.

Reverend Matthew Brown is the pastor at St. Paul High Street Baptist Church.

He is one of several religious leaders in Martinsville that are part of the opioid task force the police department formed in December to combat the growing number of opioid and heroin overdoses.

"I think that any time a big change is needed, it's going to start out with the church congregations," Rev. Brown said, "because...there are numerous churches in this area and on any given Sunday are churches are filled."

He says having pastors and other religious leaders speak to their congregations about the issue has made people more aware and has encouraged people struggling with addiction or people who know someone struggling with addiction to get help.

"What I've seen with individuals that are struggling with opiate problems or other drug problems, a lot of times they want help they just don't know how to come out and ask for help. So, they're happy that they're seeing that we're finally concerned about them and that we're there to help them," Rev. Brown explained.

Police Chief Sean Dunn says since the opioid task force began, opioid and heroin dealers have been arrested and indicted and that has also contributed to the dramatic drop in the area's rating in just one month.

"Of those that were dealing prescription pills, we feel like we've arrested a couple of the larger suppliers," Chief Dunn emphasized.

But, he is quick to point out that the arrests and indictments may not have happened without the support of the community which he says has been driven largely by the efforts of the city's faith leaders.

"Family and loved ones and religious leaders talking to people about the dangers of opioid abuse," said Chief Dunn.

At their meeting next week, the opioid task force members will discuss plans for a door-to-door campaign to help further raise awareness.

Anyone interested in helping with the campaign can contact Rev. Brown at (276) 632-2600 or contact the police department at (276) 403-5300.