- Associated Press - Sunday, May 22, 2016

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - Hundreds of community leaders, students and parents packed Martinsburg High School’s auditorium to view “Chasing the Dragon-The Life of An Opiate Addict, ” a documentary film produced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The uncensored film depicts a first-hand view into the lives of addicts, their family members and the harsh reality that a life of heroin and prescription drug abuse use creates for not only the user but also the people surrounding him/her.

One addict featured in the film said being an addict is like chasing a dragon. “You are constantly seeking that first high, but you don’t think about what happens if you actually catch it,” the addict said.

“It’s very raw and it’s very real. It tugs at your heart strings and I think it will impact everyone here tonight,” said U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld.

Local law enforcement said the film effectively aims at educating students, young adults and families about the dangers of addiction.

“This film is a remarkable and powerful film … It’s one of the most powerful prevention films I have ever seen in my life on the heroin problem,” said Maurice “Maury” Richards, chief of the Martinsburg City Police Department.

The Martinsburg Police Department, Berkeley County Schools and the U.S. Department of Justice partnered to organize the free public event May 16 as part of their joint efforts to fight the serious threat of opiate abuse and addiction in the area.

“We realize in Martinsburg that we are not going to arrest our way out of this problem. That it is really going to take three different focuses, law enforcement, treatment and prevention. And this film will go long way toward our goal of prevention,” Richards said.

Officials said the partnership behind the film’s screening in the region is the first community-based screening of its kind in the country; bringing together the cooperative efforts of a city police department, community law enforcement leaders and a local public school system.

“I think the more we can raise awareness in the community about not only what the problem is but how we got here and what the root of the problem is, I think we will be in a better position to try to find some solutions to the problem,” Ihlenfeld said.

“There is not one person who can fix the problem. It’s really the community that has to fix the problem. We all have to come together, so by having events like this hopefully it will spur more people to get involved and to do things that can help us to get through this epidemic,” Ihlenfeld added.

Manny Arvon, superintendent for Berkeley County Schools, said the school board wanted to participate in organizing this event because the well-being of the community has a direct effect on education.

“Everything that occurs in a home has an effect on a student’s education. And through a community effort of law enforcement and Berkeley County Schools, together we can fulfill that by addressing issues such as drug abuse in our county. It will also help students perform better in our schools,” Arvon said.

Before the screening started, opening remarks were made by Chief Richards, and he introduced Martinsburg Mayor George Karos and Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny Arvon. The audience also heard from speakers Brian Fitzpatrick, resident agent in charge for the DEA office in Hagerstown Maryland, James Herman, supervisory senior resident agent for the FBI’s Pittsburgh field office and also from Ihlenfeld.

What was even more unique about the event on May 16, was Ihlenfeld worked to bring Patricia “Trish” Vallejo, one of the mother’s featured in the film, to share her personal story and family experience. For the first time during a film screening, Vallejo spoke at the conclusion of the film in a panel style discussion.

Over 20 businesses and organizations from the area set up booths outside of the school to inform attendees of detoxification, residential, transitional and family resources throughout the community.

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Information from: The Journal, https://journal-news.net/

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