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Woman helps others in recovery, while investigators target drugs in Valley

A Winchester woman is using her own experiences with drug addiction to help others as the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force works to get drugs off the streets.
Published: Apr. 16, 2021 at 4:31 PM EDT
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PAGE COUNTY (WHSV) — At 15 years old, Erica Barnes of Winchester started drinking and smoking.

“I started off with simple things, but it went to harder drugs pretty quickly,” Barnes said.

Barnes, like many others, discovered access to narcotics, and her use progressed into harder drugs, like heroin and methamphetamine.

“Thinking back, it’s just really scary to put yourself in situations where you’re driving down the street and have 10, 15 people come up to your car, and can’t wait for you to get what they have,” Barnes said.

Some investigators in the northern Shenandoah Valley point to the Baltimore area as the main source of bringing drugs into the region.

Since the start of 2021, the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force has made multiple arrests, getting what they say is thousands of dollars worth of illegal drugs off the street.

The task force is made up of several law enforcement agencies, including Page County Sheriff’s Office, Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office, Luray Police Department, Strasburg Police Department and Virginia State Police to name a few.

Over the past few years, the task force has generated hundreds of criminal investigations; ranging from undercover operations, search warrants and overdose investigations.

According to the task force:

  • 590 criminal investigations were generated in 2016
  • 708 criminal investigations were generated in 2017
  • 786 criminal investigations were generated in 2018
  • 831 criminal investigations were generated in 2019
  • 875 criminal investigations were generated in 2020

Some of those operations involve agents going undercover for controlled purchase operations.

“The job’s not done yet,” said Page County Sheriff Chad Cubbage, whose department is involved with the task force. “We have a long way to go.”

Joshua Price with Virginia State Police says methamphetamine is trafficked into the Valley from surrounding states. He adds that drug trafficking organizations utilize highways like Interstate 81 to move narcotics.

When it comes to how many drugs/firearms the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force has seized:

  • $415,168 (in street value) worth of illegal narcotics and 105 firearms in 2017
  • $436,383 (in street value) worth of illegal narcotics and 58 firearms in 2018
  • $914,913 (in street value) worth of illegal narcotics and 27 firearms in 2019
  • $919,559 (in street value) worth of illegal narcotics and 67 firearms in 2020

While investigators continue to work to prevent illegal substances from coming into the Valley, people like Erica Barnes are working hard through recovery.

“In a little over two years, I got my kids back,” Barnes said. “I got my clothes. I got everything back that I lost.”

The single mother of four was incarcerated 17 times, and at one point experienced homelessness.

“I remember going into the jail and when I went in, I wasn’t on heroin,” Barnes said. “I had [chosen] meth because I was really, really sick off the heroin, and the meth took that away. And being awake for five days, I looked like a skeleton. I was just so tired. But one of the officers — they referred to people like me as “frequent flyers,” or people that they see over and over again. And one of them said, ‘Oh this is number 17. Can’t wait for number 18.’ And something just hit me.”

That’s when drug treatment court became an option, and Barnes entered a strict recovery housing program.

Today, she has been sober for two years and four months, and operates her own household, while strengthening her relationship with her children.

“I just always sit in front of my house, like, this is my house,” said Barnes. “This is mine.”

Now, she’s using her own experiences and strength to help others struggling with addiction and recovery.

“You don’t have to be afraid anymore,” said Barnes. “People want to help. They want to see people live. We’re tired of seeing people die. If you just reach out for help, it’s there. You don’t have to feel guilty, you don’t have to feel ashamed of your past.”

On May 15, Barnes will officially become a certified “peer recovery” specialist.

If you or someone you know is ready for recovery, here are a few resources:

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