Forum highlights county’s drug trends

LEWISTOWN – Eliminating drug abuse is a community effort that requires a multiple-level approach.

Prevention, prosecution, treatment and recovery related to drug abuse were the topics of discussion Thursday evening during the Drug Trends Forum held at Mifflin County Middle School. The event was coordinated by the Mifflin County School District, Mifflin County Criminal Justice Advisory Board and Mifflin County Communities that Care.

“We can’t arrest our way out of (a drug abuse problem),” said James Walstrom, a supervisory narcotics agent with the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General Bureau of Narcotics.

Representatives from related agencies across the county echoed this sentiment as they described local services available to individuals and families affected by drug abuse.

Walstrom said, aside from alcohol, heroin and prescription medications are the most abused drugs across Pennsylvania. In Mifflin County, both substances are second and third to buprenorphine, which is the number one drug abused locally.

Mark Remy of the Mifflin County District Attorney’s Office said buprenorphine is a drug prescribed to heroin or opiate addicts. The substance is typically identified by the brand names Subutex or Suboxone and is commonly distributed as orange or white pills.

Cocaine and marijuana also are widely abused in Mifflin County, Walstrom said.

Walstrom said drug abuse is becoming an even greater risk in some areas of Pennsylvania where heroin is being laced with fentanyl. He said the combination of drugs is deadly, which makes it more attractive to addicts.

“People seek it out,” he said.

Nancy Records, of Mifflin County Communities That Care, said eliminating drug abuse begins with prevention. CTC conducts assessments of the community- including a biennial youth survey – to identify risk factors and support at-risk youth before they become regular drug users.

Records said about two-thirds of local youth say they are not using drugs regularly, but have experimented with alcohol, tobacco, inhalants, prescription drugs and marijuana. Even though they are not regular users, Records said any use at all is cause for concern and should be addressed.

“There is a problem that can be prevented,” she urged.

Records said parents should talk to their children about the dangers of drug use and abuse. She also cited a number of local programs offered to at-risk youth, including: Big Brothers Big Sisters, Guiding Good Choices, Healthy Families America, Parent-Child Home Program, Parenting Wisely, Second Step, Strengthening Families Program, Too Good for Drugs and Project Yes.

Walstrom said discouraging illegal drug use and abuse also requires identification and prosecution of existing buyers and sellers. He said the community should be aware of indicators such as excessive foot traffic or frequent vehicle traffic to and from a location, loitering, threats of intimidation, blankets or sheets covering windows, the smell of chemicals and gang activities. Walstrom said individuals involved in manufacturing or selling drugs will often have little or no furniture or mail, will not pay utilities or rent and may have multiple cell phones. Their goal is to elude police and leave no trail of identification, he said.

Buyers can typically be traced by drug paraphernalia, he said, including burnt spoons, lighters, syringes, pipes or plastic baggies.

If anyone in the community suspects drug use or abuse, Walstrom said residents should call their local police department.

Judge Dave Barron of Mifflin County Court of Common Pleas said there are three specialty courts to prosecute those convicted of drug crimes: DUI court, Adult Treatment Court and Juvenile Treatment Court. Depending on the crime, offenders may spend time in the county correctional facility or state prison, he said. More importantly, he said, the courts are often the first step to treatment.

In addition to supervision and treatment enforced by the courts, Jill Pecht, clinical director of Clear Concepts Counseling, said the facility provides services for people who have drug addictions. However, treatment and recovery is not always a simple process, she said.

“People have to want to get clean and sober,” she said. “I’ll do everything in my power to help that person … it’s a two-way street.”

Recovery after addiction often involves several rounds of relapse and counseling before treatment is successful, she said. For that reason, all agencies represented at the forum said prevention is key.

“It’s better to be proactive than reactive,” said Mike Hannon, of the Juniata Valley Tri-County Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission. “It’s very, very important to have a program at a very young age … get it before it’s a problem.”