Battle With Addiction, Part 8: “What Can We Do?”

I often write about light-hearted things, like motivational topics and health and fitness. But I couldn’t get away from this issue. So I decided to do some research on the local drug problem.

I interviewed four recovering addicts ranging from 17 years drug free to just 5 months. I talked to the family of a girl whose promising life was cut short by drinking, drug use and a heroin overdose. I talked to the addiction experts at the Human Resource Center (HRC), our local police, and also our State’s Attorney. 

Along the way, I had quite a few other conversations with people and frankly, I was overwhelmed by some of the things I heard. After some of the interviews, I had to go back to my office, wipe my eyes and catch my breath. Throughout the process, I couldn’t escape the feeling that young lives are hanging in the balance. 

Methamphetamine used to be the drug of choice in the county, and it’s still a significant problem. Local task force coordinator Terry Rogers estimates it’s still about 80% of the cases. But the Methamphetamine Precursor Control Act (MPCA, 720 ILCS 648) has had an impact since it took effect in 2006. 

What it did was make it harder for local drug manufacturers and dealers to procure pseudoephedrine, the primary ingredient in meth. This has done two things. First, it meant local cookers had to get more creative. State’s Attorney Mark Isaf says, “I find it astonishing that people who never took a science class in their life think nothing of mixing dangerous chemicals together with no idea at all of the risks they’re taking.”

HRC’s Crystal Elam believes the Act of 2006 has had a different, unexpected effect. According to Crystal, “We took their drug away and made it less effective, so now they’re shooting it up. Now we’ve introduced them to needles and all the other risks that represents.” 

HRC’s Substance Abuse Disorder Supervisor, Bryon Hooser says it “opened the market up to outside suppliers from Mexico that already had established distribution channels” into the United States and here in Illinois. For the same reasons, heroin has become easier to get. I’m told people transition to it from prescription drugs because heroin is actually cheaper. 

Every expert I talked with said something to the effect of “Heroin is a killer.” You don’t get many second chances with it. So what do we do?
In my opinion, D.A.R.E. is a great program, but it’s not nearly enough. You can’t just teach someone in grade school that drugs are bad, and then hope they never encounter it again, because they will. You have to keep educating and reinforcing them. 

The education has to continue into Junior High and High School, when most kids are confronted with the opportunity to try drugs. It’s also when they can feel the most alone.

A recent newspaper article from an expert on drug addiction indicated that assemblies aren’t all that effective in preventing drug use. That may be true, but it would at least be one more piece of information the kids had. 

And that’s what it’s going to take. Kids need to learn to stop and think about the consequences. They have to have a bigger reason NOT to do it, than whatever their reason TO do it might be.

It’s going to take tough talk and action on the part of every responsible adult who interacts with kids. It has to happen before someone tries the drug, because once you let that genie out of the bottle, sometimes you never get him back in.

It’s going to take parents who are more educated about the true state of drug abuse and addiction in our community. And it’s going to take parents who are more involved, and committed to giving their kids a reason NOT to. 

It’s going to take a community of people who refuse to accept that this is just the way it is. When you have to spot check for used needles around your local parks or around the neighborhood, we have a problem. We need to give them a reason NOT to. 

And frankly, even when you do everything right, it can still go wrong. Kids raised in the best of families sometimes get away from us. The pressures on them are huge, especially in these difficult times, and so is their pain. We need to give them a reason NOT to. 

We also need to learn more about addiction, the signs of it, and what we can do to help the people facing it. This is a much bigger problem in our community than I realized. Their stories have been heart-rending. Are we going to continue to let them struggle on their own? 

We need more prayer and action about this in our faith community too. Sometimes, only God can make the difference. If we’re not going to church, maybe we need to start. If we’re going, maybe we need to go more. And if we’re already praying, maybe we need to pray more, for the people and their families struggling with addiction, and for a community that comes together to stand against this evil.

All that being said, I can’t for the life of me understand why we STILL don’t have a county-wide drug task force. One specifically detailed drug investigator isn’t enough, no matter how good and capable he is.

I’m not knocking the efforts of our local enforcement officers, deputies, and departments. They work hard, and they’re really trying. But we need a more coordinated effort. We need a county-wide effort. We need to be involved in the larger effort going on around us. 

The news reports about the arrest of the drug dealer alleged to be responsible for delivery of the drugs that killed one of our own, stated that it was a “joint investigation by the Lake Land College Police Department, Mattoon Police Department and the East Central Illinois Drug Task Force.” I’ve been told that we still don’t participate in this task force, nor do we have one of our own, as we used to. 

Every month there should be a meeting somewhere between all the local Police Chiefs, the Sheriff, and their chief drug investigators. There should be a big dry erase board with the names of all the people suspected of bringing it in. A list of all known associates. Pictures displayed of the houses and neighborhoods where heroin is known to be shot up. Pictures of the cars and trucks they drive. 

Disseminate the information to all the officers in all the departments. Make it a priority in for everyone to keep their eyes open for potential traffic stops. Especially at times when drug running might be suspected, and into and out of neighborhoods or houses where it has been known to be involved. 

It doesn’t matter who gets the credit. What matters is that you make the stop; that drug dealers know you’ll make the stop. That alone will change patterns, and who knows what you’ll uncover, and what intelligence you can then develop.

I’m talking about a concerted and coordinated effort to use legal means of law enforcement to start turning up the pressure on people bringing this into our community.

Finally, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve spoken with deputies or officers that are crying out for a K-9 specifically trained for this. We used to have a couple of local drug dogs. But not now. It’s a crucial part of the law enforcement drug interdiction process and we’ve got to have it. 

Lack of money isn’t a reason not to do it. We found the money to build an awesome splash park (which my 5 year old loves). We’re raising money to build a special needs playground, and we should do all of these important things. 

But this is critical. Lives are hanging in the balance. Kids are at risk, from potential exposure to infected needles, to the possibility of a life of drug addiction or even death, from just one bad decision. Who else do we have to lose before we take action?

I’m convinced the money can be found through grants, business and private donations. What we need is the political will and purpose to make it a priority. To start the process and then follow through until we get results.

Imagine the power of a school assembly in which you hide some drugs where the kids are sitting, and then you bring “Buddy” in and have him quickly find the drugs. Then you tell the kids that we’ll be bringing “Buddy” back from time to time to do safety checks. 

Imagine the power when local drug traffickers know that we have drug dogs immediately available to do searches of vehicles that have been stopped legally, and where there is a reasonable suspicion of drug use or trafficking. I promise you that right now they know we can’t do it, because we have no dogs.

So let’s pray together. Let’s pray for the families involved, that God would heal their hearts and help them through this valley in which they’re walking. 

Let’s talk with the schools about what we can do to help them educate the kids and keep them safer. Let’s find the political will to increase funds so local police can offer the high school and junior high school age students proven programs that could make a difference here too. 

Let’s recommit to dealing with it together in our homes, churches, schools and community. Let’s give our kids a reason NOT to do drugs. 

Let’s get a county-wide drug task force going again, and at least one drug dog. Let’s do it in memory of the precious ones we’ve lost. And let’s get started now, before we lose anyone else.

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