Law enforcement’s fight against drugs focus at LWV town hall

Published 11:40 pm Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Law enforcement and the battle they face every day when it comes to fighting the drug problem was the focal point for the third town hall meeting hosted by the Bell County League of Women Voters.

The meeting was held Tuesday night with special guests Middlesboro Chief of Police Tom Busic, Bell County Sheriff Mitch Williams and Chief Deputy Sheriff Doug Jordon. Pineville Police Chief Kyle Dunn couldn’t be there but sent his regards.

Sheriff Williams stated that in the five years he has held the position the drug arrests have increased by 287%. He said his department has worked closely with other agencies, including federal, regional and state to hamper the importation of drugs and have made some success. Forfeitures by arrested drug dealers have assisted in financing his department’s efforts to fight the battle.

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“The problem used to be opioids and we still have that,” Williams said. “A bigger problem is meth and fentanyl, which are being brought in from China through Mexico or being manufactured in Mexico. There have been at least three attempts to introduce heroin into the county but those were stopped.”

He explained that one problem is that meth and heroin cannot be tracked in the same way as opioids could, which mostly come through medical providers.

“Also, methods of preventing the sale of ingredients for cooking meth are ineffective since 90% of the meth comes from Mexico and is very cheap,” he explained. “I have been working with the Kentucky Sheriff’s Association on efforts to impose additional fines on trafficking and increase forfeitures.”

However, he believes that the only things that will really work is to focus on education and prevention and to change the mindset of the upcoming generation.

Chief Deputy Jordon warned that the Mexican drug cartels, especially the Sinoloa Cartel that was once headed by “El Chapo” Guzman, are already active in this area.

“The Sinoloa Cartel along sends $2.6 million a month in profits from its operations in the U.S. back to Mexico,” explained Jordon.

Jordon was able to report that “mules,” those who transport drugs from Mexico to the dealers, were mostly refusing to enter Kentucky but forcing dealers to meet them elsewhere because authorities in Kentucky have become so aggressive.

Chief Busic recalled that when he started on the force that the problem they faced was mostly pills and at-home meth labs. Now, it is mostly needles and imported meth.

“The meth from Mexico is so cheap that dealers give it away to get people started,” Busic said. “The problem is almost overwhelming.”

According to Busic, there has been one case of meth already in the schools, and he has had two officers stuck with contaminated needles.

“Social services is running from daylight to dark and still can’t get ahead of the problem,” explained Busic. “People will say that drug use is a ‘victimless crime’ but in reality, there are many victims.”

Chief Dunn echoed what his fellow law officers said, adding that a problem in Pineville is that it is small and everyone knows everyone else, so people are reluctant to come forward with information or get involved.

Chief Deputy Jordon said that it is a misconception that we can’t arrest ourselves out of the drug problem.

“We could, but it would cost a fortune to process and house all the addicts and dealers,” he explained of all the arrests that could be made. “So, in reality, it is not possible. The courts and jails are extremely overcrowded and most of those convicted serve only a small portion of their sentence and are soon on the street repeating their crimes.”

After the law enforcement officials discussed their concerns, the audience joined the discussion with both comments and suggestions.

Liz Lamont, whose home was recently broken into by an alleged drug addict, praised the Middlesboro Police saying, “No one could ask for a better, more professional response by local law enforcement.”

She is concerned that drug addicts are often thought of as “victims” and those who are affected by their actions are not.

Another Middlesboro woman talked about her son, the efforts to get him to quit drugs and how his addiction was affecting others in the family.

Jeannie Allen asked the law enforcement officers about sending addicts to rehabilitation facilities. They said that at present they had no way to send someone to either detox or rehab.

The officers were asked what the community could do to help. All officers agreed that the most important thing was to stand up against the dealers and to share information with law enforcement and to get involved.

Another concern that continues to repeat itself in discussions such as this was the presence of the homeless in the community.

The officers said that most of the homelessness was due to drug addiction and its consequences of that addiction. The officers were asked what percentage of the homeless were local and they answered that the number varies. They did though say that it is true that sometimes homeless people are dropped off in Bell County by agencies from other jurisdictions.

At one time, there were few services available for the homeless in the community, and so many of those who were not from here would move on. Now, many are being sustained on the street by local charities. The discussion was then opened up as to whether churches and other social organizations are enabling the homeless and drug abusers by providing food and other necessities. On the other hand, many feel it is the Christian duty to feed and care for the hungry. At the least, it was felt that the various charitable organizations needed to cooperate and coordinate their efforts.

Along that line, Middlesboro City Councilman Bill Smith asked what the various churches were doing to address the problem and to work together. Smith pledged to make such cooperation a personal mission.

A man in the audience, who did not state his name, asked about the suboxone clinics. The officers agreed that while there might be some successes that there were still many problems. They said that for every one person suboxone helps, five to 10 will be abusing or selling it.

Chief Busic said he would see people in line outside the clinic and know they would soon be selling it. Deputy Jordon stated that he had interviewed at least 500 people taking suboxone and never found one capable of taking all they were prescribed. Others talked about vans and cars with license plates from far off counties at the clinic.

Karen Blondell reiterated previous comments about the professionalism of our local officers and excellent work they do. She said she had compassion for people with drug problems, but she also has compassion for the victims of the drug abusers. She said that 95% of the violent crime in Bell County is related to drug and alcohol use.

Mike Slusher, the CEO of Middlesboro Appalachian Regional Hospital, said that we often want to blame people from outside the area for our problems, but said that, “This is our problem. We have to fix it.”

Romell Johnson asked about treatment facilities, and Tom Vicini of UNITE spoke about the voucher program. The voucher program is for long-term treatment facilities that the organization offers. In order to access one of those vouchers, you can call 866-908-6483.

Chief Busic described the Angel Initiative by the Kentucky State Police. If someone wants treatment for addiction and has no felony record, the state police will personally transport that person to a treatment facility. Since the program started, they have transported 125 people.

Tom Vicini, who works with UNITE in a number of counties, said that Bell County is doing more than most of the counties he visits.

“Everyone is having the problem,” Vicini said. “We need to talk more about prevention, and the Middlesboro school system is really interested in a robust prevention program in the school.”

The date of the next League of Women Voters town hall meeting will be announced when it is scheduled. The focal point for the next meeting is on education and prevention.