The old story goes that “Nero fiddled while Rome burned.”

It was long said that the unpopular Roman emperor played his fiddle as he watched 70% of the great city burn in 64 A.D. (More on this later.)

Keeping that image in mind, it seems that many of our local drug traffickers and dealers have also not been fiddling as our society “burned” during the past few weeks under the COVID-19 shutdowns. Far be it from them to take a break to slow the spread of disease and destruction, which apparently is their normal mission anyway.

Thankfully for us, Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis and his deputies weren’t taking a break either.

They worked diligently with a task force comprising multiple law enforcement agencies on a project dubbed “Operation Pandemic,” with the goal of bringing to justice these drug operators who continued their criminal behavior during the coronavirus emergency.

To that end, the sheriff said there have been at least 101 indictments and 40 arrests of individuals charged with conspiring to distribute methamphetamine in Southwest Virginia during the pandemic, according to a story by Leif Greiss in today’s paper.

Already, as many as 48 people have been charged as a result of the joint investigation, which also involved other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

According to the sheriff, the story said, the investigation was named Operation Pandemic “because while most people self-quarantined at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, drug dealers continued to sell, and law enforcement continued to work to arrest them.”

“I think it will help curb some of the drug distribution for a little while, put people on the edge,” Andis told the newspaper. “We’re still working hard, diligently and effectively.”

Besides crystal methamphetamine, the drugs seized during the investigation included heroin, fentanyl, prescription drugs and marijuana, the story noted. The drug found in the highest quantities was meth, the majority of which was smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico and other countries, according to the sheriff.

Washington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Josh Cumbow told the paper that there should be another wave of arrests in late July.

The investigation involved law enforcement agencies in at least three states — Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. Identified in the story as participants working with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office were the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Bristol Virginia Police Department, Virginia State Police, Sullivan County Tennessee Sheriff’s Office and other agencies in nearby counties and North Carolina.

While it’s doubtful many of these dealers and traffickers wore masks or practiced social distancing while running their illegal drugs, penalties for disobeying COVID-19 restrictions are not what they’re worrying about. Their worries center around the prospects of long prison sentences for their serious drug crimes.

They’ll be doing some fiddling in prison cells for a while, thanks to the efforts of the law enforcement agencies that kept on working to keep us safe from a variety of threats as the coronavirus raged.

As for Nero and his legendary fiddling, that probably never happened, according to historians. The staff of history.com had this to say in an article posted in 2018:

“For one thing, the fiddle didn’t exist in ancient Rome. Music historians believe the viol class of instruments (to which the fiddle belongs) was not developed until the 11th century. If Nero played anything, it would probably have been the cithara, a heavy wooden instrument with four to seven strings — but there is still no solid evidence that he played one during the Great Fire.”

Neither did Nero sing about the fire, the story noted.

“When the Great Fire broke out, Nero was at his villa at Antium, some 35 miles from Rome. Though he immediately returned and began relief measures, people still didn’t trust him. Some even believed he had ordered the fire started, especially after he used land cleared by the fire to build his Golden Palace and its surrounding pleasure gardens.

“Nero himself blamed the Christians (then an obscure religious sect) for the fire, and had many arrested and executed. But while Nero may have been guilty of many things, the story of him fiddling while Rome burned belongs firmly in the category of popular legend rather than established truth.”

That’s our history lesson for the day.

And our Washington County sheriff has provided our civics lesson for the day: Drug dealers beware. You’re not going to be tolerated here.

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