The first session of the third annual Randolph County People's Law School took place Thursday night in a packed county courtroom, despite the heavy snowfall which recently covered the region.
Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong conducted the free evening lecture alongside five county probation officers. During the Thursday lecture, the first of six weekly meetings, she spoke to citizens some of them parents about the effects of different drugs and the county's efforts to curb drug use by juveniles and adults through the Randolph County Drug Court programs.
"Hopefully you will gain a basic understanding (of the types of drugs)," Wilfong said to the crowd during her opening remarks.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Casey Houser
Randolph County Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong stands at the podium of the Randolph County Courtroom while speaking to participants of the People’s Law School Thursday evening. She is accompanied, from left, by Heidi Hawkins, Sherry Hulver, John Meadows and Keith Hopwood, all probation officers who work with juveniles and adults in the county Drug Court programs.
The evening was split into two sections, beginning with basic drug education and following with a discussion about drugs. She quickly turned the floor over to the probation officers. West Virginia Supreme Court Probation Officer Jason Elmore took the stage to discuss the effects of different drugs.
Elmore began by speaking about suboxone, a commonly used drug that was initially intended to be a replacement for methadone, a prescription drug that can be used to reduce opioid dependency.
He said that approximately 200,000 people use the drug daily, some legally and some illegally.
However it's used, the potential for abuse is high when the pill is snorted, allowing the drug to create an effect similar to other opioids.
Wilfong said the abuse of this drug is much higher than many other drugs.
"I see probably 50 times more suboxone and methadone abuse than heroine," she said.
Another commonly abused drug discussed by Elmore was methamphetamine.
Unlike suboxone, which is developed by pharmaceutical companies, meth can be manufactured in the home.
"You can walk into Walmart and buy everything you need to make meth," Elmore said.
The key ingredient that which makes the user experience a high is pseudoephedrine, a chemical found in the decongestant Sudafed, he said. Due to illegal use of the decongestant, Sudafed is now commonly kept behind the counter at most drug stores.
Other ingredients in the creation of meth include lithium battery acid and drain cleaner, and the cooking process, which can be completed inside a two-liter plastic soda bottle, can lead to explosions and chemical burns.
Contamination is a large concern in the creation of meth, Elmore said. Residue from the cooking process can leave chemicals on doors and walls.
Innocent bystanders can also be affected, such as children living in a meth user's home, Wilfong explained.
"We are hearing about kids being exposed to the cook process. It's burning their lungs up," she said.
Other drugs on the street, Elmore said, include cocaine, heroin, marijuana and various prescription pills.
Prescription pills, he said, are sometimes used by juveniles who may engage in "pill parties," where different pills are mixed together and ingested as part of a group gathering.
Wilfong said marijuana can be thought of as a gateway drug for teens.
"(Kids) build up a tolerance (to marijuana). They look for the next best thing," she said.
Following a short break, the presenters and participants took their seats to discuss rehabilitation.
In Randolph County, the adult and juvenile drug court programs are being implemented to curb drug use.
Sherry Hulver is the probation officer who leads juvenile drug court.
"It's an intensive outpatient program to help kids who are at risk," she said.
The program is typically geared toward kids between the ages of 10 and 17 who have committed nonviolent misdemeanors, felonies or drug/alcohol offenses.
The entire program can be completed in a total of 28 weeks.
Juvenile court documents stated that court sessions meetings with a treatment team that consists of probation officer, prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, law enforcement official and the county judge and community service efforts are both a part of the program.
Kids are challenged to break the cycle of abuse and become drug-free. Hulver said kids report better family lives, improved self-esteem and better grades in school as positive consequences of completing drug court.
Adults are placed in a similar environment. The adult drug court can be completed in 12 months and is also geared toward getting the user off drugs, court documents said.
Meetings with a treatment team and Wilfong take place throughout the program, and successful participants can complete drug court as a replacement for jail time.
John Meadows, the adult drug court probation officer, explained what the court is all about.
"The goal of Adult Drug Court is to get people back in the community, back to their families and to get them substance-free," he said.
Sanctions, such as short stays in jail or increased mandated court appearances, can be implemented when offenders are out of compliance with program rules.
Incentives are used to reward good behavior, said Meadows. Gift cards to local businesses and restaurants are often used for this purpose.
Wilfong summed up the evening by speaking about the effectiveness of the drug court programs.
"This is not an easy program," she said. "(Yet), these drug courts are working and they're worth it."
Honesty, acceptance and sobriety are the key parts of the program, she said.
"Can we make these people accountable? Can we make them productive?" she asked those in attendance.
It's an alternative to jail time that can save the county money and improve the lives of those involved, Wilfong said. The judge seemed proud to have the program operating in Randolph County and was optimistic about its future.
Contact Casey Houser by email at email@example.com.