More than 50 people have been recently indicted on drug charges in Wise County related to crimes committed during the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said Wednesday.
The operation is being dubbed “Operation COVID Clean-up,” according to a news release from Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp. The arrests stem from an extensive investigation involving illegal drug activity, specifically the dangerous schedule II controlled drug methamphetamine, Slemp said.
Officers from the Southwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force, Virginia State Police, Norton Police Department, Coeburn Police Department, Wise Police Department, St. Paul Police Department, Big Stone Gap Police Department, Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Scott County Sheriff’s Office and Wise County Sheriff’s Office joined forces for the operation.
“Early this morning, law enforcement officers from across our region launched an operation to clean up our streets,” Slemp said Wednesday afternoon. “As we speak, they are still in the field, making arrests and continuing with their efforts. Together, we are taking a very public and immediate action against the trade of illegal and dangerous narcotics, specifically methamphetamine.”
Meth is a dangerous and highly addictive drug, he said.
The prosecutor said the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the court system, made it difficult for law enforcement officers to gather evidence and left prosecutors with a backlog of cases that they are still working to resolve.
“We are calling this operation COVID Clean-up because we are determined to clean up our community, restore hope, hold offenders accountable, and we won’t let COVID stop us from our mission,” Slemp said.
Charges from the operation include drug-related crimes, including distribution of a controlled substance, possession with intent to distribute drugs, prescription fraud, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon while simultaneously possessing controlled substances illegally. Of the charges, almost 75% involve the distribution or possession of meth.
A list of individuals arrested during the operation was not yet available Wednesday evening as the roundup continued.