The challenge of substance abuse is playing a larger and larger negative role in Elkins. Some of our citizens are highly reluctant to discuss this issue least we be considered a drug haven or somehow marred as a community. But the fact is we can no longer live in denial.
We have a major drug problem in Elkins. This is not unlike most other communities in the nation, but we simply cannot continue to pretend that the substance abuse epidemic in America has stayed away from our city. We must take measures to change.
According to Elkins Chief of Police H.R. White, as much as 90 percent of Elkins Police Department calls are in one way or another related to drug and alcohol abuse of some sort. Crimes resulting from substance abuse are both economic and social and cross the entire spectrum of our community.
Economic crimes to support financing substance abuse include shoplifting, illegal entry, breaking and entering to steal drugs, falsification of prescriptions, white color crime and others.
Social crimes resulting from drug use run the gamut of domestic violence, child and elder abuse, DUI, fighting and a host of other forms of violence, and traffic offenses. The threat of crimes to obtain drugs has led at least one church to cease putting an individual's illness with a name on the prayer list least this be an open invitation to break and enter to steal prescription drugs.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblyn recognized the significance of this challenge in the state when he called for formation of a drug task force in West Virginia. That task force pulled together a number of citizens to evaluate the problem the state faces. Their recently published report is titled "Progress & Recommendations: Report for Governor Earl Ray Tomblyn."
It maintains that "substance abuse threatens West Virginia's families, workforce and communities with over 152,000 West Virginians in need of treatment." The study reviews a number of measures the state should consider in dealing with the challenge.
It is clear to me that substance abuse is the greatest economic development challenge we face as a community today. We can create all the jobs we could ever possibly hope for, but without potential employees who can pass a drug test such job creation is valueless.
The fact is that substance abuse is a disease epidemic that is little different from the diphtheria, tuberculosis or typhoid epidemics of previous years. The generations that faced these diseases tackled them and dealt with the very serious and economically destructive challenges they posed.
In the process, they created better societies than they ever had before. They allocated the necessary resources to eliminate the diseases and to stem the negative impacts on the economic development of the country. We must do the same.
In today's socio-economic environment, the community that successfully addresses the substance abuse challenge will have the competitive edge in employment growth and economic development.
The approach to dealing with this epidemic must be two-pronged. It is crucial that recovery initiatives and law enforcement go hand-in-hand. There are those who are addicted who want recovery. And it is essential that facilities for such recovery be provided.
The drug dealer is always there on the cell phone waiting in the wings to offer the old familiar escape from reality to the recovering person attempting to change his lifestyle. As recovering persons face the challenges of life, there must be support mechanisms in place to solidify those life changes.
It is imperative that facilities and programs be provided to counter the initiatives of the drug dealers. These must include transitional facilities in addition to detoxification and 28-day programs. Just as tuberculosis patients took months, if not years, to recover, addicts require a similar recovery period.
Experience has shown that the failure rate for 28-day programs is extremely high when no provision is made for a further transformation of the individual. Transitional facilities that provide gradual re-entry into society for the addict after a 28-day program are far more likely in the long run to create clean and sober people who can become contributing members of society.
It is significantly more cost effective and socially desirable to have productive, concerned citizens in our community than it is to fill correctional facilities with yet more inmates who constitute a continuing drain on the resources of the society.
Law enforcement must continue to play a critical role in addressing the substance abuse problem. Sometimes it takes more intimidating methods to convince an individual that recovery is an easier, softer way. Consequently, it is central to success that law enforcement personnel be given the resources with which to work. Modern research has provided a much greater range of equipment and techniques than in previous years. We must ensure that these resources are made available to police departments.
Yet without the help of citizens, local and state law enforcement personnel cannot work to maximum efficiency. This is especially true because we live in a democracy where we are innocent until proven guilty. We must ensure fair trials for all accused of perpetrating substance abuse crimes.
In this process, one of the biggest challenges law enforcement officers have against dealers and others who are pushing drugs is finding individuals with the courage and fortitude to stand up and recount in a court of law what they have seen.
This means that those who have witnessed drug abuse must be willing to testify about what they have witnessed. In the absence of sworn testimony in court, there is no conviction. All citizens must stand up and be counted on this issue.
We cannot let fear determine our actions. I am personally committed to standing with those who come forth on this issue. Together we must have the courage to take back our community.
I urge our citizens to become involved and work as a team to deal effectively with what is the greatest single problem facing our community. Let us give strong support to the many initiatives we already have in place that tell drug dealers they are not welcome in Elkins.
At the same time, let us provide opportunity for those wishing to recover to get off the vicious cycle of addiction and become a participating member of society. Working together we can continue to fashion the great destiny Elkins was meant to have - a destiny that is being created in so many other endeavors on which we are all currently collaborating.