County hires opioid response director

By Jeff Linville - jlinville@mtairynews.com
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DOBSON — A retired federal agent has been hired by the county to the newly established position of opioid response director.

The county Board of Commissioners approved the creation of the position months ago. After an extensive search, Mark Willis has been selected to provide leadership and direction to the local opioid crisis. He will begin work in late May.

According to the county’s human resources office, Willis is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, completed flight training in Pensacola, Florida, and served in active duty as an officer and naval aviator in the U.S. Marine Corps for 22 years, serving at posts in the U.S. and Far East.

After retiring from the military, he began a law enforcement career with the Fairfax County, Virginia, Police Department.

Willis continued his law enforcement career as a special agent with the federal government where he again served domestically and abroad. During this time, he gained experience working with local, state, federal and foreign governments, including the implementation of a demand-reduction program to assist communities with combining assets to mitigate the effects of illegal drug activities.

Following retirement from federal law enforcement, Willis served two tours in Afghanistan mentoring area senior law enforcement officials. He resides in Surry County with his wife Theresa. They have two children.

In his new role, Willis will serve as a countywide resource, coordinating and building services, programs and resources to combat the county’s opioid abuse problem.

He will work with the newly appointed Opioid Response Advisory Council, consisting of members from 19 county and state agencies, including medical and mental health professionals, law enforcement, the court systems, and the school systems, providing leadership, strategic planning, and collaboration for the county’s opioid response efforts.

“Hiring the position is not just a response to the opioid problem but is an all-encompassing attack on all facets of the drug problem as it effects our county,” said Eddie Harris, chairman of county board. “With the addition of Mr. Willis to our team, our citizens will have a qualified advocate working on their behalf.”

According to John Shelton, emergency services director, there have been 112 drug overdose calls for the EMS so far this year with 11 deaths, which does not include people bringing someone else to the ER off the street. However, he said many of these calls were heroin, so he doesn’t have figures just for opioids.

“We are excited to have someone with Mr. Willis’ background join our team,” said County Manager Chris Knopf. “His experience will give us a solid start in battling the opioid epidemic.”

“The leadership of Surry County is commended for adopting an impressive and aggressive posture to address our community’s opioid crisis,” said Willis. “This crisis will require a dedicated countywide effort. It is an honor to be selected to coordinate this much needed and worthy endeavor.”

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By Jeff Linville

jlinville@mtairynews.com

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.