The following first appeared in the April 7, 2016 issue of The Floyd Press.
“There’s a war on drugs in Floyd,” said Judge Marcus Long at the public STOMP (Standing Together to Overcome the Meth Problem) meeting Tuesday night at the Floyd high school cafeteria.
Judge Long, spoke about the region’s newest Drug Court, a collaboration between the judge, the Department of Social Services, Probation and Parole Services, the Sheriff’s Department, the Commonwealth’s Attorney and New River Community Services Board. “We have 3 drug courts now: Pulaski, Giles and Floyd, and hopefully we’ll be doing a few others in the near future,” he said.
The Drug Court was approved on October 19, 2015 and those involved met in early March to approve the first two Drug Court participants. “Our goal is to break the cycle of addiction and incarceration and get people back into society as good people,” Long elaborated. He explained that Meth is 3 ½ time more addictive than heroin or cocaine and that most people he’s seen don’t want to be on it, but can’t get off.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Branscom, another STOMP speaker, also spoke about the goals of the Drug Court to stop meth addiction. “The Drug Court changes the adversarial process that we generally have in court between us and the defendants. With the drug court it’s all of us vs. the drug. The drug is the enemy, not the addict.”
Branscom stated that the Drug Court is a cost benefit overall and Long agreed. “Drug courts have 85% success rate. There’s nothing that comes close to that. Right now our Drug Court cost nothing. It cost around $30,000 a year to keep someone in prison,” said Long, who pointed out the need for long term funding for the Drug Court.
Between Branscom’s and Long’s presentations, STOMP attendees learned the specifics of Drug Court, which considers high risk, high need, non-violent offenders who are not manufacturing or distributing drugs. The Drug Court program has 4 phases and takes 12 to 24 months to complete.
“We meet twice a month,” Long said. “Our treatment goals for participants are that they go to 2 self-help groups a week, do 100 hours of community service, get frequent random drug testing and comply with probation requirements. There’s a fee they pay to participate.” Branscom stated that Drug Court participants plead guilty to charges at a hearing, and if they successfully complete the goals outlined by the Drug Court, charges can be dropped.
Long estimated that somewhere around 90% of the crimes he sees are directly or indirectly related to drugs. “The main thing addicts need is structure and support and they don’t have that,” he said. He stated that any treatment can work for anybody, but what works for one person may not work for another. In Long’s experience, treatment programs that are a year or longer have the most chance of turning around addiction, which he described as a lifelong disease.
Long noted that he is tough on crime but realizes that “we have to think outside the box” when it comes to addiction. He stressed that the Drug Court has been one of the most rewarding things he’s done in his life. He described how participants feed off each other in a positive way and that the Drug Court feeds off the participants’ successes. Branscom stated that Floyd’s strong sense of community will be something that can be drawn on in keeping the program successful over time.
Another presenter in the STOMP speaker line-up was Chief Deputy Chad Harris. Harris guided attendees through a power point presentation on what is involved in making “shake and bake” meth. Among the items associated with homemade meth labs that should raise red flags are plastic bottles and hoses, stripped lithium batteries that can explode when they come in contact with water, coffee filters for drying the meth, a pill grinder for grinding pseudoephedrine pills, coleman fuel, instant cold packs, scales and paraphernalia for using the drug, which can be snorted, injected or smoked.
“If you go into someone’s house and see muriatic acid (a cement cleaner) and they’re not a brick mason, chances are there’s going to be a meth lab,” Harris said. “If you see drano next to camping fuel, it’s another pretty good indication.” He stated that law enforcement can track purchases of Pseudoephedrine, the decongestant stimulant that is used in making meth.
Harris recommended not touching a suspicious plastic bottle with any residue in it, as the chemicals could be dangerous and an explosion could be possible. The average age of meth lab cookers that Harris has come across is 30 – 60 years old. “I’ve never come across a juvenile using meth or heroin, but that’s not to say it doesn’t happen,” he reported. He stated that crystal meth from Mexico is becoming more popular.
Dr. Pam Ray of the New River Health District spoke about how we can help prevent addiction in children. Children can become addicted to everything from sugar, caffeine, tobacco and technology. She reported that children’s brains are not fully developed until their mid ‘20s and that the earlier a substance is used the more pathways for a circuitry of addiction are created.
“Nicotine is the single most addictive substance you can put in your body,” she said. Although tobacco use has declined among teens, electronic nicotine delivery systems, also known as vaping, is on the rise. E-cigarette companies are marketing to young people with flavors called gummy bears, root beer float, cappuccino, tequila sunrise and more. Studies have shown have shown that youth who use E- cigarettes (which are easy for anyone to purchase online) are more likely to go on to smoke conventional cigarette. E-cigarette aerosol can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory conditions.
School Superintendent Kevin Harris reviewed the results of a Youth Risk Survey recently taken by some middle school and high school students in the county. Noting that some risky behaviors fell above national levels, Dr. Harris said, “We know we have issues to deal with and that anytime you ask kids these questions, you’re going to get some answers you don’t want to hear.”
Stating that the school system is a reflection of the culture and a part of the culture, Dr. Harris spoke of needing resources and help financing programs for children. Another Youth Risk Survey will be conducted in April. “For us this is a starting point, building a pattern that will tell us the direction we need to go in to create a safe environment.”
“STOMP has done a great job bringing this issue to the forefront,” said supervisor Linda Devito, a longtime STOMP member. “We need all the segments our community to come together on this.”
Photos: 1. Deputy Rick Morrison (left), Supervisor Lauren Yoder (center) and Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Branscom pause to pose. 2. Judge Marcus Long outlines progress on the area’s first Drug Court. 3. Attendees enjoyed homemade chili and cornbread as Deputy Morrison opened the evening with some humorous storytelling. 4. Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Branscom talks about the Drug Court. 5. Sheriff Brian Craig introducing Chief Deputy Chad Harris, who gave a power point presentation on the neighborhood meth labs and what to look for. 6. “Burn piles are located at 99% of all residences where meth is produced,” said Chief Deputy Chad Harris in his presentation. 7. STOMP attendees listening to a presentation. 8. Standing in front of an educational display on vaping, Dr. Pam Ray talks about how to prevent children from starting on the road to addiction. 9. Superintendent Harris goes over the Youth at Risk Survey that some students recently took. “We need to do more,” he said. 10. An attendee asks a question as supervisor Linda DeVito looks on. 11. During a brief intermission community members socialized with each other. Pictured center is STOMP organizer Jack Wall speaking with Superintendent Harris.