Julia Roberts Goad
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second 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 — The STOP Coalition recently brought together individuals fighting the war on drugs in Mingo County to connect and exchange ideas.
Joshua Murphy, Assistant Director of STOP, brought together David Rockel, Williamson Police Chief, Eugene Crum, Mingo County special investigator and sheriff elect and Tim White, Regional Prevention Coordinator for the rehabilitation facility the Prestera Center with other community leaders for the meeting.
Murphy said gathering data is important among different agencies, and the others said that was a difficult task to gather consistent information.
“We need hard data,” White said. “We (STOP) could be a clearinghouse for information.”
Chief Rockel said part of the problem is that there are several agencies involved, including law enforcement and medical professionals.
“Sometimes, if a person has overdosed, emergency personnel or a hospital will notify law enforcement, but not always, its hard to know.” Murphy said often deaths that are ruled as a suicide, but could be an accidental overdose.
Murphy said some data shows prescription drug abuse in the county may have leveled off. But Rockel and Crum said that, as prescription drugs become less available, other drugs are beginning to show up in the county, such as heroin. They also said the lengths drug dealers and users will go to obtain drugs is growing.
Home health personnel have been known to steal patients’ medications, Rockel said. Crum related a story of a man who took oxycodone prescribed for his wife, who was suffering from terminal cancer, and giving his wife Tylenol. Drug users will make note of deaths of those who have died of terminal illness, and go to the deceased home during their funerals to steal unused drugs.
White told the group that in Huntington, City Council had passed an ordinance that was a useful tool in preventing the crime that accompanies drug abuse - a nuisance ordinance with bite.
He said that if law enforcement is called to a business three times within a certain time period, the owner can lose his license to operate, regardless of what crimes have or have not been committed. The group agreed that was an avenue worthy of pursuing, perhaps starting with municipalities in the county.
Murphy said STOP is working toward producing a documentary film focusing on drug abuse in Logan, Boone and Mingo Counties. The film would include input from community leaders, and would also include positive outcomes, not just the negative portrait often portrayed of drug abuse in West Virginia.
Another idea discussed at the meeting was the disposal of prescription drugs. While STOP is hosting a prescription drug take back day this Saturday, as the Mingo County Sheriff’s Department does annually, often people don’t know how to dispose of drugs.
A system of lock boxes was suggested, to be placed at secure locations such as police stations, where security could be provided.
The issue of drug testing minors was discussed at the meeting.
“Dealers are now going to middle schools, giving kids drugs for free,” Crum said. Rockel said he has spoken as grade schools where children as young as the eight or nine years old tell him they see drug abuse in their homes.
Murphy 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.
White said that some sheriff departments in the state furnished free drug testing kits to parents.
“They carry them in their cars,” he said. “Anyone can stop them and ask for a kit. Parents don’t even necessarily have to use them, but put them where their kids can see them, as a deterrent.”
Mingo schools superintendent Randy Keathley said the idea of testing students in the school system has been pondered by the BOE, but testing has never been done.
“I think some school systems did it, and it caused legal issues,” Keathley said. “But now that it is being done in other systems, we should revisit the idea.”
He said the idea is controversial, but that he hopes having a unified community support for testing may help.
Everyone at the meeting agreed bringing the community together is imperative in the fight against drug abuse.
“That’s what we have here, a coalition,” Murphy said. “Everyone has come together.”