News Column

Experts Discuss Drugs, Perception and Society

July 5, 2012

Martha Sparks

A wide cross section of local experts discussed drug abuse, perception and what can be done about it at the end of the PEICES 2012 Drug Summit.

A panel consisting of drug treatment staffers, law enforcement officials, social workers and more answered questions and discussed how people perceive drugs in our society and what efforts have been made to combat drug addiction.

Among those on the panel were law enforcement officers Dennis Brown, Patrolman Mark Dickerson and J. Sheppard from the Logan Sheriff's Department and Logan Police Department; Logan Prosecuting Attorney John Bennett; John Mays of Logan Mingo Mental Health, Futures Director Sharon Bevins, Logan Day Report Center Director Michelle Akers, Community Activist Rev. Mike Pollard; and social workers and educators including Denny Large, Rachell Ball, Jeannie Curry and Josh Murphy.

The panel was moderated by WVOW News Director Jay Nunley who admitted that there is not a lot the media can do about Drug Abuse and prevention other than "hold up a mirror to society."

Pollard said that in the celebrity driven world of the 21st century many famous people seem to be glamorized because they abuse drugs, pointing to Charlie Sheen, Lindsey Lohann and Amy Winehouse. Mays voiced that many of the common ads for alcohol were ironic as they urged people to use a substance recreationally then had tag lines at the end about drinking responsibly.

One of the social workers on the panel said it was important to remember that most people begin to experiment with drugs or alcohol at the age of 11. Another noted that in the past Child Protective Services workers had the option of placing children with grandparents but that sometimes is no longer an option.

"What we are encountering more and more of grandparents who are using or abusing drugs or alcohol too," she explained, noting that the CPS system and the Foster Care system were pressed past their limits currently.

Bennett said that one of the biggest problems facing Logan County is the shortage of police officers to work on drug cases.

"What you often find is an officer will work all night, then he has to show up in court the next morning to testify," Bennett said. "Then he has to go back out and work that evening. Most of the officers we have are hardworking, but they are vastly overworked. It is not uncommon for them to try and work a drug case, but get called out to handle two or three more cases...They do the best they can to keep up."

One of the police officers on the panel said it is not uncommon for there to be only one or two officers working in the evening shifts.

One of the journalists on the panel remarked that most law enforcement agencies in Logan County appear to be staffed with a skeleton crew compared to the same sort of agencies in nearby Kentucky and Ohio.

"You have less than 50 cops in the entire county," he said. "You have three magistrates. You have two judges. You have a handful of prosecuting attorneys. Yet you have over 5,000 criminal cases a year in Logan County. You do the math."

One of the officers admitted his agency currently has seven officers. (Ironically, decades ago, that same department had more than twice that number of officers). A third officer said it could be difficult to find qualified applicants for police jobs who would work for the typical low pay and benefits most agencies offered compared to other jobs in the area. He pointed out that some men had to pay $300 a month for insurance for themselves and their family members.

Bennett admitted there seemed to be a problem in the state with allocating funds for law enforcement, drug treatment and incarceration facilities.

"We literally have hundreds of addicts in Logan County," Bennett said. "But FUTURES, which is a great facility, only has nine spots for men available. And there are no spots available for women."

Bennett said the Southwestern Regional Jail is routinely overcrowded.

"You can take $200 million dollars and build a prison, or you could take that money and build more treatment centers across the state," Bennett said. "But that is not a concept that is popular with voters."

Bennett noted that in a 20 year time period there were around 5,000 addicts transported to Huntington and other places on mental hygiene warrants- which often took officers off duty for an entire shift. Lt. Dennis Brown said it would be a better idea to have security firms provide transportation on mental hygiene warrants to avoid taking a deputy off the road for hours on end.

Michelle Akers said that her facility does many drug screens on a daily basis and that in Logan County the two most popular types of drugs to be abused are opoid pain pills like Oxycontin and Lortab, and nerve pills like Xanax.

"Prescription drug abuse affects everybody in our county," she said, noting that pill abusers can be found in all age groups, from all walks of life and in all social circles. Akers said she felt many doctors over prescribe powerful narcotic pain medication which is addictive for minor complaints.

"A lot of people in our community did not start out using recreational drugs. A lot of the addicts we see did not start out abusing prescription drugs to get high. But they got addicted to them because they were using too many of them for pain."

Akers said she felt many doctors needed more awareness for the potential of drug addiction among their patients.

"And on the street, the addicts know that if Doctor Smith won't write them a prescription for Oxycontin, Doctor Jones will," she noted.

Brown noted that at the summit there were many representatives of drug treatment facilities, social work agencies and law enforcement, but a suspicious lack of doctors.

One of the social workers said the pain pill epidemic had taxed the resources of both social work agencies and foster care facilities.

Some 84 people attended the summit, said Family Resource Network Coordinator Shannon Meade.

Source: (c)2012 The Logan Banner (Logan, W.Va.)

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