Suffolk delegate responds to demonstration

Published 10:07 pm Monday, November 4, 2019

Members of a special-interest group targeted a Suffolk delegate on the eve of Election Day with a banner held during the morning rush hour at Suffolk’s busiest intersection.

Members of the Virginia Marijuana Justice group stood at the intersection of North Main Street and West Constance Road holding a banner that read: “Chris Jones sold Suffolk more opioids than Walmart.”

Their statement is a reference to an analysis published by the Washington Post in July of a Drug Enforcement Administration database.

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This database tracks the path of every pain pill sold in the U.S. by manufacturers and distributors to pharmacies in every town and city. According to the Washington Post report, the Post gained access to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System, or ARCOS, as the result of a court order.

According to the data, Bennett’s Creek Pharmacy, which was owned and operated by Jones for more than 30 years until it closed in late September, purchased more than 1.4 million pain pills in the seven years from 2006 to 2012. It was the third-most among pharmacies in Suffolk, according to the Post analysis, ahead of Walmart’s more than 1.3 million.

“We came out today to discuss the opiate crisis,” said RachelRamone Donlan, co-founder of VAMJ. She continued about Jones: “He’s done absolutely nothing to help stop the opiate crisis. In fact, we feel as if he’s done more to harm the community than good.”

Jones owned and operated Bennett’s Creek Pharmacy starting in 1985. He is in the midst of his re-election campaign for the District 76 seat in the House of Delegates, facing off against Democrat Clinton Jenkins.

In response to these criticisms, Jones wrote in an email Monday evening that he has “repeatedly supported” policies to fight the opioid crisis.

“In the legislature, I repeatedly supported and voted for policies to address the opioid crisis, and to help those suffering from addiction. Unfortunately, this is just another political attack on the eve of the election,” he wrote.

Jones added that he provided an additional $1.6 million in funding for Naloxone, a medication that helps counter the effects of opioid overdose. He also voted for a $10 million funding increase to allow medication-assisted treatment services and voted to allocate $2 million to a program that supports substance abuse treatment programs for people with mental illnesses, he wrote.

There are 31 individual entries on the list of Suffolk “pharmacies” that purchased prescription pain pills between 2006 and 2012 in the database. Of these 31 entries, 13 are individual doctors’ offices.

According to Jones, fewer than 10 of the remaining pharmacies listed, including his own, were open for the entire span of this time period, which would contribute to its relatively larger number of pain pill purchases.

“Bennett’s Creek Pharmacy opened in 1985 and was one of the busiest pharmacies in the fastest growing part of the city of Suffolk,” Jones wrote. “The pharmacy complied with all state and federal laws, regulations and reporting requirements and had comprehensive policies and procedures in place for the dispensing of all controlled substances.

“All medications dispensed were consistent with a valid prescription from a licensed practitioner with a bona fide doctor-patient relationship. Bennett’s Creek Pharmacy always put the wellbeing and the best interest of the patient first.”

Jones said he has been opposed to the legalization of cannabis.

Donlan and her fellow demonstrators advocated for cannabis as a safer alternative to prescription opioids.

“We want people to know that cannabis is an alternative to opiates. It’s non-addictive, people are finding healing and people are living with cannabis as a safe alternative to the opiate crisis,” she said.

“We also have veterans who are suffering from PTSD,” she continued, “and they’re just being overmedicated, rather than being given an alternative that we know works.”