Morning Notes

Working at Lake Anne Plaza (Photo via vantagehill/Flickr)

Senior Movie Day Returns — Reston Association’s senior movie day returns to Bow Tie Cinema in Reston Town Center today. Doors open at 9:15 a.m. and the movie — Queen Bees — begins at 10 a.m. The event began in 1994 and was paused roughly 18 months ago due to the pandemic. [Reston Today]

Police Chief Issues Alert After Overdoses — The Fairfax County Police Department’s police chief alerted the community yesterday after six people overdosed in one morning in Falls Church. All six adults ranged from 23 to 35 years of age. [Fairfax County Police Department]

County Community Transmission Still High — COVID-19 transmission in the county is still high, although more than 62 percent of the county’s population is fully vaccinated. The county’s health department offered an update to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors this week. [Fairfax County Government]

An Update on Early Voting — So far, more than 2,600 people have voted in person so far during the first three days of early voting. Three voting sites are open during weekdays in the county. [Fairfax County Government]

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Morning Notes

German shepherds in life vests at Lake Anne Plaza (via vantagehill/Flickr)

Herndon Man Pleads Guilty in 2011 Reston Shooting — Herndon resident Saul Pacheco Mejia pleaded guilty in federal court yesterday (Thursday) for his involvement in a 2011 drug deal where his associates shot and killed one of the buyers. Mejia was indicted in 2015 and could face up to 25 years in prison when sentenced on Nov. 11. [The Washington Post]

Man Arrested for Reston Stabbing — A 23-year-old has been charged with malicious wounding for a stabbing that was reported in the 2100 block of Cartwright Place around 10:03 p.m. Wednesday night (July 14). Police say they located the suspect at 10:57 p.m. that night after an extensive search of the area involving dogs and helicopters. [Patch]

Hawk Crashes into Reston Home — A loud crash at a window of Reston resident Edward Abbott’s home last Friday (July 9) led to the discovery of “a dead chipmunk and a stunned hawk lying on the deck.” A Fairfax County Animal Control officer who responded to the call took the bird to a veterinarian for examination, but they were unable to determine whether the hawk had killed the chipmunk. [Patch]

Reston Community Center Unveils Fall Offerings — RCC’s 2021 Fall Program Guide is now online. Registration will begin on Aug. 1 for Reston residents and employees and Aug. 8 for other individuals. A print guide will be delivered soon, but it will be condensed to just key information as the center looks to reduce its use of paper and carbon footprint. [RCC]

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(Updated at 4 p.m.) Starting July 1, adults 21 and older in Virginia can legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana.

Ahead of that date, local police departments say they are preparing their officers, while advocates say the bill needs serious retooling to keep kids out of the juvenile justice system and help reverse the harm done to Black and brown communities after decades of unequal enforcement.

“We still have time to fix many of these things,” Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of the racial justice and cannabis advocacy group Marijuana Justice, said. “Between now and then, we have elections. We have to talk to people about how they’re going to take this legalization forward while centering equity. This is not over.”

The Virginia General Assembly passed a law earlier this month accelerating the legalization of weed from July 2024 to this coming summer. The law will be reenacted in 2024, when recreational, commercial sales are legalized.

Through June 30, the possession of less than one ounce of cannabis will remain “decriminalized” — that is, it is penalized with a fine, but the incident does not show up on a person’s criminal record.

The new law legalizing cannibis essentially permits those 21 and older to use marijuana inside their homes, and possibly in their backyards; grow up to four plants; and possess up to one ounce of cannabis. The plant must be in a manufacturer’s container for someone to drive with it in the car legally.

Giving cannabis to someone underage is considered a felony, while students younger than 21 who are found in possession of the plant on school grounds would be charged with a misdemeanor. A clause requires court-ordered drug treatment services for individuals 20 and under found with the plant.

People in jail for marijuana-related crimes will remain there, Virginia Mercury reports.

Here are the top areas of interest and concern for police officers, people in the criminal justice system and advocates.

Marijuana-related arrests 

Although marijuana-related arrests have been trending down recently, Falls Church City Police Chief Mary Gavin says that one potential consequence of marijuana legalization is more people driving while stoned.

“There are going to be obviously growing pains,” Gavin said. “My biggest concern, in terms of public safety, is the possible increase of driving under the influence.”

According to data provided to Tysons Reporter by the police departments, cannabis arrests appear to be trending down slightly in both Fairfax County and Falls Church City. A chart supplied by Fairfax County Police Department shows arrest rates peaking in 2018 before dropping off dramatically in 2020.

The Falls Church City Police Department reported a similar pattern. It made 61 and 63 arrests in 2018 and 2019, respectively, followed by 17 arrests in 2020 and none so far this year.

Herndon Police Department spokesperson Lisa Herndon said the town had about 125 marijuana-related arrests from Jan. 1, 2018 to Dec. 13, 2020.

Gavin attributed the recent drop-off in arrests to a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and a policy change introduced by Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano, who ceased prosecuting simple marijuana possession cases against adults when he took office on Jan. 2, 2020.

Descano told Tysons Reporter, Reston Now’s affiliate site, that he stopped prosecuting marijuana cases because it would be the right approach for community safety and racial equity. His office estimates that more than 1,000 cases have since been dismissed.

“While the opposition to this decision was intense at the time — so much so that we planned to create a bail fund in case our attorneys were held in contempt of court and jailed — I am pleased that other jurisdictions followed suit and marijuana has now been legalized across the Commonwealth,” Descano said. Read More

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Morning Notes

True Food Kitchen Opens at Reston Town Center — True Food Kitchen officially opened its doors at Reston Town Center yesterday (Wednesday) after a more than two-year wait. Located in a 7,798-square-foot space at 11901 Democracy Drive that was previously M&S Grill, the restaurant was previously expected to open in August 2020 before getting delayed and announcing an April 28 opening in March. [The Burn]

Key Reston Planner Dies at 93 — Glenn William Saunders Jr. died on April 1 at his home on Singer Island, Florida. The civil engineer served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War before working as an engineer for the cities of Alexandria and Fairfax. He was hired by Reston founder Robert E. Simon in 1961 to help plan, design, and build the planned community. [Patch]

Fairfax County Could Expand Outdoor Classrooms — Fairfax County Public Schools has been running outdoor learning pilots at five schools since the start of the 2020-2021 academic year with the goal of expanding classroom capacity and reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Using federal relief funds, FCPS has purchased a total of 215 tents, each costing around $4,300, as of late April and anticipates expanding the program in the fall. [The Washington Post]

Fatal Drug Overdoses Up During Pandemic — “Last year was Virginia’s worst on record for fatal drug overdoses. In 2020, nearly 2,300 people died from drugs in the state, according to a new report from the Virginia Department of Health. That’s a 41% increase from the year before, which was already record-breaking.” [The Virginian-Pilot]

Reston Breweries to Celebrate American Craft Beer Week — “With three breweries in or near Reston, the Brewers Association is urging craft beer drinkers to support local breweries as American Craft Beer Week approaches. The 15th annual weeklong observance will run from May 10-16 this year.” [Patch]

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A Reston man was sentenced to 12 years in prison on Wednesday (April 21) for selling fentanyl to an individual who later succumbed to a fatal overdose on the drug.

Peter Andrew Romm, 36, regularly traveled to Baltimore to purchase heroin and fentanyl, which he sold in Northern Virginia, according to federal court documents.

Court documents identified one of Romm’s customers as “N.G.,” the individual who suffered the fatal overdose after consuming fentanyl purchased through a middleman, Tyler Huston, 28, on Oct. 7, 2019. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined that N.G. died by acute fentanyl poisoning.

“The defendant’s fentanyl trafficking significantly endangered our communities and caused victim N.G. to suffer a tragic overdose,” Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Raj Parekh said in a press release.

“While no prosecution can bring victim N.G. back to his family and loved ones, we hope that this case has brought some measure of peace and closure to them, all of whom deserve justice and healing for their devastating loss.”

Romm was arrested on Feb. 11, 2020 upon returning from Baltimore while in possession of approximately 75 capsules of fentanyl. Romm admitted to selling fentanyl in Northern Virginia, including to N.G. through a middleman, during a post-arrest interview with law enforcement.

Romm was arrested again eight days later, along with his girlfriend and co-conspirator Donnetta Ferguson. They were again returning from Baltimore, and 72 capsules of fentanyl were discovered in Romm’s vehicle, according to the press release.

Romm pleaded guilty on Nov. 4 to one count of conspiracy to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin and 400 grams or more of fentanyl, as well as one count of distribution of fentanyl. He accepted a plea agreement that required a minimum of 10 years in prison. He also admitted to distributing the fentanyl that caused N.G.’s death, as a part of the plea agreement.

Huston and Ferguson also pleaded guilty to charges related to their roles in the conspiracy. Huston was sentenced on Dec. 16 to 28 months in prison for brokering the deal that resulted in N.G.’s fatal overdose on fentanyl.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine E. Rumbaugh and former Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Karolina Klyuchnikova prosecuted the case. U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga sentenced Romm.

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Morning Notes

Northam Signs Bill Legalizing Marijuana Possession — “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday signed a bill legalizing simple possession of marijuana beginning this summer, making it the first Southern state to do so…The bill, signed a day after April 20 — marijuana’s unofficial holiday — allows anyone in the state 21 or older to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana beginning July 1.” [CNN/WTOP]

Fairfax County Judge Orders Former D.C. Firefighter’s Release — “A former D.C. firefighter will be released from a Virginia prison this week after a Fairfax County judge Tuesday vacated his 2019 conviction on drug and gun charges, which were based on falsehoods told by a former Fairfax County police officer now under state and FBI investigation.” [The Washington Post]

Reston Banking Company Plans to Go Public — John Marshall Bancorp, Inc., the parent company of John Marshall Bank, announced yesterday (Wednesday) that “it intends to become a publicly-traded company, including potentially listing its shares on the Nasdaq or NYSE stock exchange. The Company anticipates becoming a publicly-traded company within the next twelve to fifteen months.” [Business Wire]

Fairfax County Tax Relief Workshop Today — “Join our virtual tax relief workshop: April 22, 10:30 a.m. to noon. Learn how to apply for real estate or car tax relief if you’re a senior or person with disabilities.” [Fairfax County Government/Twitter]

Leidos Lands Customs and Border Patrol Contract — “Reston-based Fortune 500 company Leidos Holdings Inc. announced Tuesday it has been awarded a $480 million contract by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to provide multi-energy portal (MEP) systems for nonintrusive inspections of commercial vehicles at land and sea ports of entry.” [Virginia Business]

Last Chance to Join Frying Pan Farm Photo Contest — “TOMORROW (April 22) is the last day to submit pictures for our photo contest! Pics can be from 1/1/2019-now, taken at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, VA. Proceeds from the contest will help support the farm.” [Friends of Frying Pan/Twitter]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

During its Reconvened Session last week the General Assembly approved an amendment proposed by Governor Ralph Northam that decriminalizes the possession by adults of a small amount of marijuana effective July 1, 2021. Virginia joins 26 other states and the District of Columbia that have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana. This generally means certain small, personal-consumption amounts are a civil or local infraction, not a state crime (or are a lowest misdemeanor with no possibility of jail time). Based on the new law in Virginia, adults can grow up to four plants, gift it in private, or have an ounce or less in their possession if they are over 21. Selling, buying, or driving with marijuana remains illegal at this time. People given a summons for possession for an amount beyond the minimum will be issued a summons for marijuana possession for which they have the option of prepaying the civil penalty of $25 instead of going to court.

I voted for the Governor’s amendments as necessary to reflect the realities of marijuana possession and use. The people of Virginia will be no less safe as a result of these changes. Our jails will be less full of persons who use marijuana recreationally for themselves, and persons who do so will not be labeled a criminal. Previously marijuana possession was a criminal offense punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or up to a $500 fine. Public opinion polls have shown that 83 percent of Virginians support lowering criminal possession to a fine and 61 percent support ending prohibition all together.

I also supported the changes in laws related to the use of medical cannabis in 2017. The law enacted at that time permitted patients suffering from intractable epilepsy to use some types of cannabis oil with a doctor’s certification. Subsequent amendments to that law allow patients with any condition to receive recommendations to use and purchase cannabis preparations with no more than 10 milligrams of THC per dose. Extracts sold under the provisions of this law must be produced by processors approved by the Virginia Board of Pharmacy. Thirty-three other states have similar laws related to the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Retail sales of marijuana will not begin until January 1, 2024. Many complex issues remain to be resolved as to who will be certified to sell the product, how an illicit market will be controlled, and what the limitations on purchasing will be. The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission issued a 175-page report in November 2020, entitled “Key Considerations for Marijuana Legalization” that sets direction with options as to how the state should proceed with full legalization. There is a determination on the part of most legislators that the current system for labeling persons criminal and putting them in jail is not appropriate and that total reform is needed. Minority communities have been particularly hard hit by the current system. Much work remains to be done, but I believe Virginia is taking a responsible route to fixing the laws about weed.

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Reston Hospital Center has again partnered with the Fairfax County Police Department to host a drug collection site in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Drug Take Back Day on April 24.

Located at 1850 Town Center Parkway, the hospital’s collection site will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for visitors to drop off unused or expired opioid medications. It will be situated in the circular drive at the Pavilion 1 rear entrance, which will also be available for drive-thru drop-offs.

Reston Hospital Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tom Taghon says the “Crush the Crisis” drug take-back day is an especially vital initiative this year, as the added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic could be contributing to the ongoing opioid epidemic.

“Stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic may be exacerbating the opioid crisis by causing Americans to have feelings of anxiety, grief, social isolation, financial worry, and general uncertainty, all of which can affect those with substance use disorders and those at risk of developing one,” Taghon said. “Now, more than ever, it’s critically important to get unused pain medications out of homes and to educate the community about the serious threat of opioid misuse and abuse.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. saw the number of overdose deaths involving prescription opioids more than quadruple from 1999 to 2019, with nearly 247,000 people dying over the time period.

The Fairfax County Health Department called opioids the top cause of unnatural death in the county. They were linked to 83 deaths in 2018, including 70 that involved heroin or fentanyl.

For the upcoming drug take-back day, Reston Hospital volunteers will collect tablets, capsules, and patches of the following drugs:

  • Hydrocodone (Norco, Lortab, Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet)
  • Tramadol (Ultram)
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl (Duragesic)
  • Morphine
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana)

However, needles, syringes, lancets, or liquids will not be accepted at the collection site.

Officers from the Reston District Police Station will be present at the site to assist with the collection and disposal of the medications, according to Reston Hospital.

Reston Hospital is one of eight drop-off sites that will be available around Fairfax County for Drug Take Back Day, which is being coordinated by the police department.

Fairfax County also now has permanent drug drop-off boxes at each of its district police stations as well as some pharmacies and medical facilities in the area.

Photo courtesy Reston Hospital Center

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Morning Notes

Lakes Under Focus in Reston Association Meeting — The organization is hosting an informational meeting on lake management on March 31 via Zoom. All members are encouraged to take part. [RA]

Save the Date — National Drug Take-Back Day is on Saturday, April 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Fairfax County Police Department will be offering a number of drop-off locations, which will be announced via social media soon. [FCPD]

County Funds for Rental Assistance Now Available — Funds are now available for landlords who are seeking rental assistance on behalf of their tenants. [Fairfax County Government]

Tornado Drill Set for Today — Vriginia’s annual tornado drill take take place at 9:45 a.m. The drill is part of Virginia’s Severe Weather Awareness Week initiative. [Fairfax County Government]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Vaping has reversed years of incremental progress in Fairfax County Public Schools in the number of students who report being drug-free, according to a report from the school system.

“The slow improvement FCPS had shown over the last several years on the drug-free youth metric ended during SY 2019-20 due to increased numbers of students who reported vaping,” the report said.

Over the last couple of years, vaping has emerged as the drug of choice among students in schools across the United States. Experts and school leaders have labeled it an “epidemic,” and studies have found that it is easy to access, targeted toward teens, and highly addictive.

In FCPS, one-third of middle and high school students reported alcohol and drug usage for the 2019-20 school year. The drug-free metric FCPS uses has not moved too much in recent years, but the uptick in vaping led to a “dramatic dip” for the 2019-20 school year, when 11% of students reported that they vaped, but did not use other drugs or drink alcohol.

The rapid downward trend due to vaping “requires direct and swift action to counteract, especially given the negative health impacts that have been associated with vaping,” the report said. It concluded that more funding may be needed to address the root causes of vaping.

FCPS included vaping in its drug-free metric for the first time for the 2018-19 reporting year. At the time, the report said, vaping did not have much of an impact — students who reported vaping also reported drinking or using other drugs.

Last year, the 11% of students who vape moved the needle 2 percentage points. When vaping is added in, the percentage of students who are drug-free drops from 79% to about 77%.

During the 2020 school year, 11.2% of students reported vaping while not using alcohol or other drugs. Broken down by grade level, 9% of eighth-graders, slightly more than 12% of sophomores and 12.5% of seniors reported vaping only.

Vaping appears to have also led to an increase in drug-related suspensions. Through March 2020, the number of students with suspensions for drug and alcohol offenses was 448, an increase of 6 percentage points when compared to the 2018-19 school year — 424 offenses through March 2019.

The report found that Asian and Black students were more likely to be alcohol and drug-free than Hispanic or white students.

In its report, FCPS concluded that its current interventions may not be enough to lessen vaping and other kinds of drug and alcohol use among students overall. The report said it is unclear whether any of FCPS’s traditional interventions would have specifically impacted vaping rates.

For example, substance abuse specialists were “likely managing students with more serious drug abuse issues,” the report said. Further, the “enhanced access to middle school health lessons would likely have had only an indirect or low-level impact on vaping.”

Photo via Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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Three men — including two Reston residents — have pleaded guilty for their involvement in the drug-related murder of Michael Cooker in 2018.

Charles Forbes, 30, of Reston, pleaded guilty late last week to using a firearm to commit a drug-related murder. Fredy Alfaro, 36, also of Reston, and Jimmie McCray, 36,  of Sterling,  also pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the murder and conspiring to distribute marijuana.

Alfaro worked with Cooker and others to ship marijuana from California and sell it in Northern Virginia from January through April of 2018, according to court documents.

When Alfaro and Cooker had an argument over the conspiracy’s profits, Alfaro called McCray and offer him money to physically harm Cooker. The offer came after Cooker and Alfaro argued on April 17, court documents show. McCray told Forbes about Alfaro’s offer, court documents show.

Around 6 a.m. the next day, Cooker, McCray, Forbes and another individual who has not named drove to Chantilly where McCray gives Forbes a revolver.

Forbes left in a separate car with Cooker, pulled over in a wooded area in Fairfax Station, and shot him twice in the head roughly half-an-hour after the group separated. Forbes left his body there, according to police.

Alfaro was sentenced to 21 years in prison, McCray was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and Forbes faces a maximum term of life in person when he is sentenced on April 9, 2021.

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A Reston man pleaded guilty today (Wednesday) to selling fentanyl to someone in Northern Virginia who later overdosed and died.

Peter Andrew Romm, 35, sold customers heroin and fentanyl that he bought from Baltimore, according to court documents. regularly traveled to Baltimore to buy heroin and fentanyl that he then sold to customers in Northern Virginia.

Authorities believe Rom sold the drug in plastic capsules and folded in slips of paper. A man who purchased drugs from him in 2019 was later found dead in his apartment. An autopsy determine the man died of a fatal drug overdose.

He was arrested on Feb. 11 this year as he made his way back from Baltimore with 75 fentanyl capsules. He was arrested again eight days later on the way back from Baltimore with an additional 72 capsules, according to court documents.

Romm pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin and 400 grams or more of fentanyl; and one count of distribution of fentanyl. He admitted that the fentanyl he distributed caused the man’s death as part of his plea agreement. .

He faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison.

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Fairfax County Police Department participates in National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day this week with several drop-off locations, including Reston Hospital.

This Saturday (Oct. 24) Reston residents can properly dispose of their expired, unused, or unwanted prescription pills and patches, according to FCPD.

There will be drop-off locations across the county collecting items from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., including Reston Hospital(1850 Town Center Parkway) as it works to “Crush the Crisis” during this day.

“Volunteers will be collecting tablets, capsules, and patches of Hydrocodone (Norco, Lortab, Vicodin), Oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet), Tramadol (Ultram), Codeine, Fentanyl (Duragesic), Morphine, Hydromorphone (Dilaudid), and Oxymorphone(Opana), the press release said. “Needles, syringes, lancets, or liquids will not be accepted. Law enforcement officers from the Fairfax County Police Department will be on site to assist with the collection and disposal of unused medications.”

E-cigarettes and vape pens will also be accepted, only if the batteries are removed.

Other drop-off locations include:

  • Fair Oaks District Station (12300 Lee Jackson Memorial Highway)
  • Franconia District Station (6121 Franconia Road)
  • Mason District Station (6507 Columbia Pike)
  • McLean District Station (1437 Balls Hill Road)
  • Mount Vernon District Station (2511 Parkers Lane)
  • Sully District Station (4900 Stonecroft Blvd.)
  • West Springfield District Station (6140 Rolling Road)

This year will be the 19th year of U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.

Last year, almost five thousand law enforcement facilities participated across the county, with more than six thousand collection sites, the website said.

Photo by Freestocks/Unsplash

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Friday Morning Notes

Candidate Sought for Design Review Board — Reston Association is seeking a candidate for a design professional position on the board. The application is available online. Members must be in good standing to be considered for a committee. [RA]

Reston Hospital Center to host ‘Crush the Crisis’ Opioid Take-back Day — “With the opioid crisis still raging throughout the nation, Reston Hospital Center will be taking part in “Crush the Crisis,” an opioid drug take-back day, which will allow the community to safely dispose of unused or expired opioid medications.” [Reston Hospital Center]

Indictments Secured in Bihar Ghaisar Killing — “Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said on Thursday that he has secured indictments that include manslaughter against the two U.S. Park Police officers who shot and killed Bijan Ghaisar, an accountant from McLean, Virginia.” [WTOP]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Drug take-back boxes have been placed at all eight police stations in Fairfax County, including its Reston station. 

The eight stations include Reston District StationSully District Station, Mount Vernon District Station, McLean District Station, Mason District Station, Franconia District Station, West Springfield District Station and Fair Oaks District Station

According to a statement from the Fairfax County Police Department, the boxes placed at each local station are geared to be a safe place to responsibly and conveniently drop off unused or unneeded medications. 

The stations are accepting schedule II-V controlled and non-controlled prescription medication, prescription ointments, over-the-counter medications and medications for pets. 

The stations are prohibiting needles, liquids of any kind, illegal drugs, non-prescription ointments and lotions, aerosol cans and inhalers, according to the statement. 

The district stations are open to the public 24 hours each day, seven days each week. Those with questions can contact the Property and Evidence Section Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. at 703-246-2786.

Photo via the Fairfax County Government website 

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