ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — City and community leaders in Roanoke are becoming concerned about the correlation between gun violence and opioid use.
During a meeting on Monday, May 2, the Roanoke City Council discussed promoting different programs and job opportunities to help citizens, especially teenagers, as they find themselves struggling with idle hands and drug use.
The opportunities and programs were proposed as a way to keep these younger citizens busy and out of trouble.
According to Roanoke City Councilman Joe Cob, “Last year, we had 16 homicides related to gun violence. We had quadruple that number in overdoses.”
Director of the Roanoke Valley Collective Response, Nick Comer, says overdoses are only up slightly, but overdoses caused by multiple drugs at once are skyrocketing, especially fentanyl.
“Whenever a substance is illegal, the market behind it is protective, deviant, and violent and that includes all substances,” said Comer.
He says that’s where the weapons come into play.
Comer adds that even marijuana dealers are often caught carrying high-powered weapons in an effort to protect so-called territories. Those territories may now have even more users, following the pandemic.
“The CDC used to say that roughly 10% of America was addicted and now that number is 14.5%, and that number has gone up since 2019, so it’s directly related to COVID,” Comer said.
As the city searches for solutions, Comer recommends starting with mental health.
“I think that the rise in crime and the rise in opioids, necessity is the mother of invention,” said Comer. “I wish we would gather as many mental health workers and as many medical doctors to walk alongside law enforcement and first responders.”