Julia Roberts Goad
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first part of a two part story of a coalition of community leaders, brought together by the STOP Coalition, to combat drug abuse in Mingo County.)
WILLIAMSON — A brainstorming session of people working to address the problem of substance abuse in Mingo County was recently held, with promising results.
The meeting, held by Joshua Murphy, Assistant Director of the STOP Coalition, brought together Sister Janet Peterworth, a Board member with STOP, David Rockel, Williamson Police Chief, Eugene Crum, Mingo County special investigator and sheriff elect, Randy Keathley, Superintendent of Mingo schools and others who are working on the front lines of the war on drugs in the county.
Murphy said that, for the first time in recent history, Mingo County’s drug use seems to be on the decline.
“We have fallen from number two in deaths from overdose in the state to number seven,” he said. “Mingo County seems to have stopped the bleeding, although I don’t think overdose deaths are indicative of all the drug abuse in the county.”
Murphy said that while STOP intends to do more data gathering and assessing as well as networking throughout the state, he wants to do more than just talk and crunch numbers.
“I want this group to be action-oriented,” he said. “We want to make environmental changes, to see what is working and what is not.”
He said some of the projects STOP is currently pursuing include drug abuse prevention geared toward younger children, as soon as the third grade.
“The sooner you talk to them, the more success you will have,” he said about anti-drug programs in schools.
Which led to a discussion of drug testing students.
Randy Keathley, Mingo BOE Superintendent, said drug testing high school students had been discussed in the past, but without any action being taken.
“We have considered it,” he said. “Whether just for those students who participate in extracurricular activities or other methods. But there was a lot of controversy, legal issues. Other school systems had implemented testing programs, and there were a lot of legal problems, and we didn’t end up pursuing it.”
But, Keathley said, now that other systems have paved the way, he hopes Mingo County moves forward with a drug testing policy.
Another avenue to address drug abuse in the county is law enforcement. Chief Rockel and Investigator Crum have been working together, and made several drug related arrests.
“Look at what we have done, with mainly just the two of us,” he said, referring to himself and Crum, who have made several busts and arrested at least 15 people in the past weeks, getting thousands of dollars of drugs off the street. Crum said when he takes office on Jan. 1, he plans to implement more drug enforcement.
Since the tide of prescription drugs seems to be turning, Rockel and Crum said, the law of supply and demand is taking control.
“You are seeing heroin in our community,” Rockel said. “And another thing we are seeing is not just meth labs, but pseudoephedrine (an ingredient in methamphetamine) labs. Dealers are making what they can no longer buy.”
Crum and Rockel agreed the law of supply and demand drives up the price of drugs in the area, leading dealers here from larger cities. Drugs sell for triple the price here than in Columbus, they said.
“We had a dealer who told us he makes $40,000,” Crum said. “I thought he meant $40,000 a year, but he meant every month. He said he can take five people to a doctor, get their prescriptions for oxycodone, for tranquilizers, and thats 120 pills per prescription, per patient, to sell.”
He said dealers were targeting younger people, giving drugs free to middle school students.
But dealers are not the only source of drugs, those at the meeting agreed. Most young drug users get the first drugs they take in their own homes.
“People need to look in their medicine cabinets, their kitchens, their bedside tables,” Rockel said. “When I talk to kids in schools, they often say their parents have drugs in the home, they are raised with this, they think it is normal.”
Crum said the recent successes he and Rockel have achieved against drug dealers will continue.
“We’re not going to quit,” Crum said.