Will you join the fight?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Does anyone care? That is a question I've been asking myself since we published a front page article that focused on a rash of drug-related deaths in Barry County. I expected to receive some response from our readers but instead have only heard from my fellow Drug Court Planning Committee members who I already know are committed to fighting Barry County's drug problem. Besides the comments of these six or seven individuals, I have not had another single person talk to me about the article.

I find it disturbing that we run letter after letter about concentrated animal feeding operations but not one person expresses their outrage that young people are dying in our county from prescription drug overdoses.

We first introduced the problem of prescription drug abuse back in the spring of 2004 when we helped sponsor a county-wide drug education rally. We brought in speakers, hosted a panel and set up informational booths to try to get people's attention and educate them about the dangers of methamphetamine and prescription drugs. Several hundred people attended The Way Out Rally, which was great, but we would have loved to see several thousand.

In recent years, a lot of the attention has been focused on fighting meth. This drug is an evil one but it's prominence should not take away from the threat of prescription drugs, which are cheap and easy to get. These drugs that seem harmless at the outset are actually highly addictive and are especially lethal when mixed together and mixed with alcohol. Prescription drugs also seem to be the drug of choice among teenagers.

We appreciate the efforts of Barry County Coroner Skip White and local pharmacist Louis Metz to shed more light on this problem that now plagues our county, but they can't fight the battle alone.

How many dead young people does it take to get the community's attention? In my opinion, one dead teenager is one too many. It's time we all take our heads out of the sand and realize that the problem of prescription drug abuse is not going away. Instead, it's growing, destroying more and more lives and ultimately killing people.

Drug abuse does not follow socio-economic boundaries. If you've told yourself that drug addiction only affects those "from the wrong side of the tracks," think again. Many of the young people who are getting caught up in this latest drug craze are often "A" students and athletes from affluent, upstanding families. They are looking for an escape and falsely believe that taking prescription drugs is safe because the drugs are legally prescribed. What those handing out the drugs don't tell them is that high-powered pain killers like hydrocodone, Vicadin and Oxycontin are highly addictive. Before these young people know it, they're addicts who will do just about anything to get their hands on another pill.

I now can name more than a dozen teenagers that I personally know who have fallen prey to prescription drug abuse. Some of these individuals have gotten help and others continue to spiral out of control. If the fact that young people are dying in our community because of prescription drug abuse bothers you, speak up. Let me know or let one of your elected officials know you're concerned about this issue.

It's high time we figure out a way to combat this trend. I, for one, would like to see the county pledge more resources to fight our drug problem. We've built a new Judicial Center and several bridges and we're currently working toward expanding the jail. Once that project is complete, we'd like to see the Barry County budget include more money to hire additional officers trained in drug detection. It also would be nice if the county was able to provide some funding to the new Barry County Drug Court program. This is a program that I believe will ultimately save taxpayers' money while providing first-time and nonviolent drug offenders with the tools they need to break the cycle of addiction.

With a primary election looming, I hope the problem of drugs becomes the key campaign issue for those running for sheriff and commissioner. I hope concerned citizens will ask hard questions of our elected officials to find out what they're doing to battle drugs in Barry County.

We can no longer turn a blind eye to this problem. I am joining Skip White and Louis Metz in this battle, and I hope others will get on board. Unless this community rises up and demands a solution, I'm afraid more young people will die, and that's a tragedy.