WILLIAMSON – More than 70 county and state leaders, educators, partnering organizations and citizens of Mingo County attended the Community Forum on Synthetic Drugs, Tuesday Oct. 27, at the Williamson Fire Station.
The event was hosted by the Mingo County Schools Student Services and partnering organizations as part of Red Ribbon Week. The goal of the forum was to better educate the community about the growing epidemic of synthetic drug use throughout the county.
Partnering organizations included the Mingo County Sheriff’s Department, The Williamson Police Department, The Strong Through Our Plan (STOP) Coalition, and the Governor’s Regional Substance Abuse Task Forces.
Jeff Reynolds with Mingo County Schools served as Master of Ceremonies and welcomed attendees to the event. “It sends a message loud and clear tonight that from this night forward, this problem, this epidemic, and this crisis we are facing in Mingo County that this county is banding together from different communities and different levels of service to say: no more. We are declaring war on those who would bring these drugs not only to our children but to our citizens at large,” Reynolds said.
The first to speak was host David Farley, President of the Mingo County Board of Education (BOE). “I would like to echo Jeff’s comments. I want you all to know that the BOE and school system is behind this effort to do away with these drugs in our area and we will work with you with anything we can do to help. We look forward to working with everyone to do away with this danger in our community,” Farley said.
On behalf of the Mingo County Commission, President John Mark Hubbard spoke at the event and read the Proclamation signed by commissioners declaring the week of Oct. 23 through 31 to be Red Ribbon week throughout the county. Hubbard stressed the importance of private and public awareness.
Hubbard discussed the rise of synthetic marijuana throughout the county. Hubbard said, “That’s real. That is what is going on in this county. That’s why you are here and that is why we are here; to support the BOE in their endeavors to see that this continues to be an issue that becomes more aware to us as a public and in the homes from which our children come to get an education.”
“You might not know the face, you might not know the name of the person, but it affects everyone in this county. We must join together through private and public awareness that this is no longer going to be allowed in Mingo County. That is why you are here this evening. Enough is enough and we are not going to stand for it any longer,” Hubbard continued.
Joshua Murphy, with the STOP Coalition provided an overview of the ongoing efforts to end drug use in Mingo County. “We try to focus on fixing the future with prevention but also fixing the present with recovery,” Murphy explained.
The next speaker was Heather McDaniel, Program Director for Health First. McDaniel discussed the new HELP4WV substance and mental health abuse hotline. “We are set up to be a one stop shop for abuse. When you are trying to navigate the recovery and mental health system it can be exhausting and cumbersome. We are set up to help people navigate that system,” McDaniel’s explained.
Tim White, the Keynote Speaker from the Governor’s Task Force on Substance Abuse followed McDaniel. White provided statistics and educated attendees on two of the synthetic drugs impacting our area; synthetic marijuana and bath salts. “Synthetic means that it is 100 percent man-made. There is nothing natural about it,” White explained.
Mingo County Sheriff James Smith, Williamson Police Chief Barry Blair, and Assistant Mingo County Prosecutor Justin Marcum also presented at the event. Each stressed the importance of education and prevention.
“It’s in our county. It is an epidemic. In one week, we had nine overdoses show up at the local hospital. We made a drug bust in town and it was synthetic drugs. We have to educate our kids. If we don’t work together, we aren’t going to stop this. We have to come together as a community,” Smith said. “Anything that can come from the internet is hard to arrest,” Smith continued.
Blair expressed a similar viewpoint. “It is so easy to get. It is fast money. When you are fighting against that; it is like a machine you are fighting against. Another problem we have as a small police department is resources. We have been trying to work together to make quality arrests. The only way to eliminate this is through education. We cannot jail our way out of this problem,” Blair said.
Marcum spoke on the problem from the prospective of a prosecutor. “We have to cure this problem. We cannot incarcerate our way out of it. There is no way we can do that, friends. It doesn’t stop. It is a revolving door and we will never incarcerate our way out of the problem,” Marcum said.
There was a question and answer session following the guest speaker presentations.
Drema Dempsey, Director of Student Services for Mingo County Schools discussed activities going on within the school system throughout Red Ribbon Week. Dempsey described the activities as being, “age appropriate.”
Josh Murphy extended an invitation to the community to attend the next STOP meeting. The next STOP meeting will be Nov. 18, at the Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College Williamson campus at noon.
(Courtney Pigman is a news reporter for the Williamson Daily News. She can be contacted at [email protected], or at 304-235-4242, ext. 2279.)