Most officials wouldn't argue that substance abuse is a growing problem for the nation, not just for Upshur County.
Family Resource Network members, along with police officers and middle school students took time out of their schedules to meet at Chapel Hill United Methodist Church recently to address "the big picture."
The Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School students are members of the school's gifted program. Those students recently completed a mock crime and trial scenario on the topic of substance abuse. In the scenario, the students evaluated a mock crime scene involving the deaths of two eighth-grade students who overdosed on prescription medications and alcohol at a party following a game.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Melissa Toothman
Phoebe Morrison, Heidi Bryan and Jay Senthilvelan, Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School gifted students, participate in a community-wide discussion on the topic of substance abuse after recently completing a mock investigation and trial related to drugs and alcohol. The discussion took place at the Chapel Hill United Methodist Church in Buckhannon.
"It's good to have the middle schoolers who have been processing their classwork and program and the results of that," FRN director Joyce Harris-Thacker said. "This is an issue. Are we going to be facing this in the future? Hopefully not, but we need to address the situation."
Buckhannon Police Chief Matt Gregory said that the idea behind the program was to focus on real-world issues.
The reality of the growing drug and alcohol problem in Buckhannon was the topic of the discussion at the forum. The forum was designed to engage the community in a discussion about the dangers of substance abuse and to find out what the community thinks can be done to reduce or eliminate the problem.
Gregory said that he has been on the police force in Buckhannon for 16 years, has been the police chief for eight years, and throughout that time he has seen the drug problem evolve in Buckhannon
"This is truly a disease that's taken hold of our community," Gregory said.
Gregory said when he first became involved in law enforcement, one of Buckhannon's biggest drug problems was with marijuana. But that has changed over the years to include meth. He said that heroin has been on the rise in Buckhannon, and that another rising problem is with synthetic drugs. Despite the legislation to make and keep drugs illegal, Gregory said that there are chemists who stay one step ahead of the law and legislation by altering the chemical properties of such drugs.
"Here recently, I have been working more and more and more to combat drugs in the community," Patrolman Nick Caynor said. "However, I am beating my head against the wall. Stopping the drug abuse and the problems they cause us does start with the family, because that is what the drugs destroy first."
Caynor said that drugs destroy families, communities and society as a whole. He said blame can't be placed on just one area, because multiple factors contribute. He said one factor he believes contributes to drugs and crime is pop culture and graphic media violence because it glorifies drugs and illegal behavior. He said studies have shown that prolonged exposure to graphic media violence has affected the developing mind of children.
"You have to take a step back and wonder what we are doing to ourselves," Caynor said. "We are imposing a self-inflicted wound by not properly supervising our children."
He said that substance abuse is conducive to violence.
"If that's the way it continues, your family will be a victim of drug-related crime," Caynor said, "whether you're the victim or somebody in your family is trying to support their habit themselves, and that's the facts of the situation."
Participants were separated into groups by the tables they occupied. Each group was comprised of children and adults. All the groups addressed the issues they thought were most prevalent in the area and the possible solutions to those issues. One group thought Buckhannon's greatest substance abuse problems were with alcohol, synthetic drugs, meth, bath salts, prescription drugs, cocaine and hydrocodone. It cited the reasons for the problems as peer pressure, availability, money problems and addiction. The group thought some solutions would be stiffer punishments, stiffer age limits on alcohol, having more for children to do outside of school and sports, truancy and drop-out prevention programs and stronger punishments for negligent parents.
A spring forum will follow-up on the issues addressed. The community discussion was funded by a grant from the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention and the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities.