People’s Law School educates public about drugs

ELKINS – A local law enforcement official’s announcement that one in five high school students abuse prescription drugs was just one of the eye-opening facts discussed at the fourth annual People’s Law School held its first session at the Randolph County Courthouse Thursday.

About 40 local residents turned out for the first session, despite the frigid weather conditions. The topic was “Drug Courts and Drug Abuse” and featured a collection of speakers from the probation and drug court offices.

Chief Probation Officer Heidi Hawkins helped organize the session with the help of Probation Officer Keith Hopwood, Juvenile Drug Court Probation Officer Sherri Hulver, Probation Officer Jason Elmore and Adult Drug Court Probation Officer John Meadows. The session was moderated by Randolph County Circuit Court Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong

The People’s Law School was started in 2011 and it has grown more popular every year, Wilfong said.

Hopwood said the average age of first drug use is between 11 and13 and that one in five high school students abuse prescription drugs.

“We have dealt with 11-year-olds who have used cocaine,” said Wilfong. “I had not thought that I would have to deal with drug issues like this in this area, but it’s out there.”

Symptoms of use in children include declining grades, truancy, a sudden influx of new friends, a change in appetite and having no explanation for how they are spending money.

“Make sure you know who your children are with, what kind of people they are spending their time with,” said Hopwood. “They are creative. Their goal is to get high as quickly as possible with as little evidence as possible.”

Hulver talked about the Juvenile Drug Court program, which she

coordinates. She meets with the juveniles two to three times per week. The program is built on structure and accountability and focuses on behavior modification tactics.

Participants are rewarded with incentives, like gift cards and fun activities, for good behavior and are sanctioned for bad behavior. Sanctions in juvenile drug court can range anywhere from more one-on-one meetings, homework such as essays and community service.

“The best part of the program is that week to week they get a fresh start,” said Hulver. “Sanctions aren’t held over their heads. If a kid messes up, they have a chance to start over.”

Parents are required to go to class, court and therapy with their children. Hulver said the program improves family dynamics, communication skills and participant self-esteem.

Meadows said that while Adult Drug Court has similarities to the Juvenile Drug Court, in many ways it’s an entirely different animal.

“The biggest difference between the two programs is that if participants do not complete this program, it’s the end of the road,” said Meadows. “This is their last chance. They can complete the program and make the effort to improve themselves and have their charges dismissed, or they can quit and serve their sentence.”

“The biggest issue with the correctional system is that it’s not correcting anybody,” Meadows added. “Recidivism is the biggest attribute to the prison overcrowding problem. One answer to remedy that is Drug Court.”

Meadows said that it takes $25,000 to house one inmate per year in West Virginia. But state agencies are turning toward rehabilitative treatment. Drug courts saved the Mountain State $20 million last year, he said.

Adult Drug Court focuses on high levels of supervision and substance abuse therapy. Participants are required to check in everyday and call in every evening, as well as being subjected to two drug screens per week.

Currently the program has 17 participants and a 50 percent success rate, which is on par with the national average, he said. The program carries a zero percent recidivist status, meaning that, of those who have graduated, none have become repeat offenders.

Elmore talked about suboxone and subutex, prescription drugs that prevent opium addicts from suffering withdrawal symptoms. Elmore said that his office “sees (abuse of the drugs) a lot.” He said they are popular because users will take one of them with another substance and “get twice the high.”

Methamphetamine is a synthetic drug with ingredients that include pseudoephedrine, lithium, anhydrous ammonia. Elmore said that it is “probably the most addictive drug on the street now.”

“Meth users don’t care about the danger in manufacturing it or how it affects them or who gets hurt as a result of their actions,” Elmore said. “They just want to get high.”

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