Drug-free advocates provide update on local drug abuse problem

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 166 views 

Marijuana and readily available prescription drugs are the two most prevalent illicit substances among Northwest Arkansas middle schools and high schools this year, according to local school resource officers.

“If the kids are not taking the prescription drugs themselves they are selling to their friends,” said Corporal Will Gardner, a school resource officer in Bentonville. “E-cigs or vaporizers are also being used to produce elevated highs.”

E-cigs vaporize instead of burn. One recent study showed that some high schoolers were putting hash oil or a THC infused wax into the device. The levels of vaporized hash oil or waxes can be up to 30% higher than dried marijuana, according to the researchers.

While teens are more prone to use marijuana and prescription pills, adult users can quickly move into methamphetamine and now heroin addictions are also on the rise in neighboring states, according to Denny Altes, Arkansas State Drug Director, who discussed drug abuse and its impact on the local economies and quality of life Friday (Oct. 30) at the Drug Free Benton County annual luncheon in Rogers.

Altes said medical marijuana will likely be on the next Arkansas general election ballot and he has vowed to educate residents on why Arkansas does not want to become the next Colorado. He said traffic fatalities doubled in Colorado in the first year following the legalization of marijuana. While marijuana is a top priority, Altes said heroin arrests also are on the rise in Arkansas because it’s a cheap high and extremely addictive. The heroin seized and circulating in the south today is out of Mexico and California.

Richard Cox, associate pastor at Cross Church, fought back emotion as he shared that “marijuana is a gateway drug at least it was for me when I started using at age 12.” Cox, a reformed addict for the past 15 years, said he is now battling stage 4 cancer and will not use marijuana even if medically subscribed.

“I’ve seen the devastation it can cause … I would wake up in the morning and do meth because I wanted to my job well. By noon I was taking methadone and around 4 in the afternoon I would start drinking whisky and then I would take Xanax at night so I could sleep. It was vicious cycle,  a hope to no purpose,” Cox shared.

He said a police officer arrested him one night 15 years ago for drunk driving and he went willingly to jail so he could get some help. Cox said drug abuse, in his case was a generation thing. He said his grandparents were alcoholics, his parents used marijuana, which is how he and his brothers got access. One brother has been in prison for drugs several times.

Cox now works with adolescents and adults teaching and sharing his message on how drugs can ruin lives.

“Spending time with your kids, talking about the dangers of drugs and plugging into your community to help share this message is the only way we can effectively make a difference,” Cox said.

Nathan Smith, Benton County Prosecutor, said this year the county will see nearly 2,100 felony prosecutions and between 2,000 and 2,500 misdemeanor cases. Smith said 75% of these cases are drug related.

“Just three years ago our felony prosecutions were about 1,800, and they continue rise every year because of the the drug use and abuse in the county,” Smith said.

He said stricter laws around purchasing certain over-the-counter drugs used in meth manufacturing have caused users and seller to be more creative. Instead of cooking and using in the home, he said they are more likely to congregate 8 to 10 people and they cook and use at a neutral site like a hotel.

Smith said the larger groups pose a bigger threat to the community because when under the influence they will do things they never would do by themselves.

Three years ago Smith said a young mother with an 18-month-old son went to a motel with three other adults to use drugs and took the baby. When the baby started crying she picked him up and shook him violently. Because the adults were all under the influence no one stopped the attack. It was several hours later before they took the child to the hospital where he would found to have severe brain damage and broken ribs.

“She is in prison for this crime that she likely never would have done without the influence of drugs. This child’s life was forever altered from his mom’s bad decisions.” Smith said.

Lewis Villines, assistant principal at Rogers High School, said he recently had two students confide in him that they had found two meth pipes in their home used by their parents. He had to call Child Protective Services to investigate. Villines said the students destroyed the pipes in hopes their parents would stop using.

“Too many times the kids are having to be the parent in cases where drugs are used,” Villines said. “Most parents are proactive in talking with kids about harmful drug additions issues, but when parents are users it’s a different story.”

Kim Umber, a member of Drug Free Benton County, lost a daughter and a husband to meth addictions. During the recent kickoff to Benton County Drug Awareness in early October, Umber shared that story of loss with the kids in attendance. After Umber’s speech a young girl, somewhat unkempt in appearance approached her to talk. Umber said the girl told her she feared her own mother would also die from meth abuse. As an advocate, Umber reached out to school and county officials who deal with this type of investigation and care for the children left behind.

Villines encouraged everyone in attendance to join in this drug education effort.

“Lead from where you are,” he said.