FRANKLIN - The Pendleton County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition recently asked the county what residents and agencies can do to combat substance abuse - worried that many adults are unknowingly providing children and teens with drugs from their medicine cabinet and alcohol from home.
More than 200 people responded by coming to a town hall meeting in mid-April for an open discussion with a panel including State Police Cpl. A. D. Teter; County Prosecutor Kevin Sponaugle; Sheriff Kevin Puffenberger; High School Principal Tim Woodward; Probation Officer Kenny Watson; Cary Ours, director of Day Court; the Rev. Craig Richter, a Lutheran pastor; attorneys Isaac Sponaugle and Jeff Bowers; and recovering addict Andy Pond and his mother, Shelby Morrison.
Children as young as 6 years old can filch prescription drugs from their parents or grandparents to give to older siblings or kids to use or sell. If they get a share back, perhaps that's the beginning of experimenting with drugs, said Morrison, whose son and husband are in recovery.
Puffenberger, who formerly served on a Drug Task Force, found the average age for children getting involved with drugs, usually marijuana, was 12 years old.
One person a day dies from a drug overdose in West Virginia, which is second in the nation in prescription drug abuse and top of the nation in births of drug-addicted babies, according to the PCSAPC.
Substance abuse destroys families. People die or can't get jobs and become homeless, said Mike Myers, an AmeriCorps Vista worker with PCSAPC.
"They don't send their children to school, which ultimately contributes to truancy, delinquency, another generation of crime and a host of other problems," he said,
County Commissioner Gene McConnell, acting as meeting moderator, said the large town hall attendance "shows awareness is pretty high, but, remember, this is just a first step in a long journey for people to say, 'we're not going to take this anymore.'"
Later McConnell said anyone who deals drugs to kids "is a dirt bag in my opinion."
Pond said drug abuse is a real issue in the county.
"I'm glad to have the opportunity to help," he said.
Pond's drug problem started in high school, with prescription drugs. "No one told me that six years later it would spiral out of control. ... My friends were hop heads. I was the guy who always got caught."
Pond said you can't just tell someone they're an addict.
"I was aware that I had a problem. It was 'tough love' that told me this is not acceptable in my house."
After being locked out from his home, he had to face his own problems.
"There was nobody I could blame it on but me - what do I do now? That was the last day I used. (The) best thing that ever happened to me was tough love. ...
"I got help from those who have been there before. ... What I encourage, what helped me most, was people not turning a blind eye to the problem. If you have (a family member) and know something is going on - say something!"
Pond's mother depended on groups such as Alanon to help her get through the tough times of dealing with her son and husband as drug abusers.
"As a community we have to recognize this is part of the solution - compassion and help gets a person back on track," she said.
Morrison hopes to establish an Alanon chapter in Pendleton County.
All the panelists underscored the difficulty in dealing with drug abuse and urged individuals to do something if they suspect a drug problem. The law enforcement officers encouraged telling them if drug abuse is seen.
"Let us know, speak up," Sponaugle said. "If the public only knew all the time law enforcement puts on these drug investigation, they would be amazed!"
Since Pendleton County does not have a tipline, Teter said citizens could use a crimestoppers website at www.statepolice.wv.gov.
The Town Hall meeting was sponsored by the PCSAPC, a group of the Potomac Highlands Substance Abuse Prevention Program; the West Virginia University Extension Service for Healthy Families/Healthy Children Initiative; and various county businesses and agencies. It was funded in part by Federal Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant funds, provided through the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
Puffenberger pointed out the "good turnout of people" on the panelist table. "It shows officials are concerned and willing to fight."
Woodward said this county is the "best community I've ever worked in. This place is worth every ounce of effort we can put into it."
Watson said Franklin has something special. "We need to preserve it. Tonight we're doing that." He urged family communication.
"Don't have me as a probation officer know your kids better than you. If you see a problem, look into it," he encouraged.
Bowers stressed law enforcement did not want to see "your kids in the system. If I suspect a problem, I don't go to the child, I go to the parents or grandparents. That's risky, because no one wants to see their child involved. ... Step out on a leap of faith and tell. Get involved!"
The PCSAPC meets the first Friday of each month at Pendleton Community Bank. More information is available by contacting Tiffany Parker at 304-538-2302, ext. 230, or Mike Myers at 304-668-9184.