Sadness is what I wake to this morning. It permeates my very core. Last night convinced me that I, like the popular Podcast, live in S-Town.
This week’s local news flow includes the story of a young man who escaped Ohio State Patrol custody in Eaton after about a half-milion dollars of heroin was allegedly found inside his vehicle. The escape meant a helicopter was dispatched, guns drawn, people advised to stay inside their homes. It had a ‘Cops’ feel to it, but the real drug news here is significantly less dramatic — and more toxic. It’s someone’s son or daughter — mother or father — unable to kick the habit — a habit that drains the pocketbooks and emotions of untold families in the county.
Some days I do ponder how we got here as a community. What was the tipping point? When did we enter a world where drugs consume our resources and our hope? Was it the 90s? The new millenium? It’s difficult to know the exact tipping point even though what goes on here is hidden in plain site.
You can see it in our yard signs (some mystical, above), our billboards, the tents hidden just out of view in the city parks, and in the rumors that abound.
Allegations exist of a couple local police officers mishandling suspects — usually miscreants and petty criminals — ‘shaking them down’ and conficating their backpacks without cause. I do not know if its true — and both sides have a vested interest in their version of events. But backpacks can be a problem. As pointed out in Methland, some dealers use backpacks to create a meth lab on wheels. They fill a 2-litre bottle and let the meth ‘cook’ as they ride around town. What appears to be a drug house also exist just out of eyesight of some of our Neighbors Against Crime signs. And, according to the latest rumor, a new drug house opened for business on West Somers Street — three or four blocks from the Eaton Police Station.
Regardless of the accuracy of the rumors, one thing is certain — there is a thriving drug market in Preble County.
Whether the market is created by the lack of hope, economic opportunity (rumors say some drug dealers here net $2,000 a week) — or it’s a situation expasperated by the more highly addictive drugs flooding our community — is anyone’s guess. Even marijuana, considered benign by many in Preble County — including many in my generation, is 8-10 times more potent that the marijuana from the era I grew up in (70s-80s). While proponents of marijuana ignore its downsides, a tight link to depression and anxiety complications is revealed in medical studies.
Until our drug problem is solved, nothing else matters.
Drug addiction is draining our resources. At the time of this writing, the county jail has 83 inmates in custody — many associated with drug issues. The facility is designed to hold about 70 so some inmates are being housed in another county — at taxpayer expense. The number of incidents handled by the Eaton Police Department has grown here as well — by about 25 percent in a decade. In 2006, the EPD handled about 2,000 incidents. Last year it was close to 2,500. This is in a city of about 8,000 with a steady to declining population.
Admittedly some of our problems are self-inflicted. Our population is largely high school educated — only about 10-11 percent with advanced degrees. This impacts local job options. We are also fiscally and politically ultra-conservative creating a tendency to slowly crawl to No instead of Yes when solutions are proposed. Our heroin problem is also partially self-inflicted as our doctors have — for nearly a decade — prescribed opioids at a higher rate than other counties in the state. And, in the bizarro legal world of the United States, doctors will never be criminally prosecuted — only the addicts.
I’m certain the sadness I feel this morning will fade because time does heal, but when I look at what my county needs to solve, I’m not convinced we, as a community, have the fortitude and intellectual drive to do it. I know we’re not afraid to work — I’ve seen hundreds of volunteers cleaning up our parks, but this is a much more difficult task.
It requires working on our perceptions. It requires educating ourselves about chemical dependency.
And, most difficult of all, the work requires giving a chemically-dependent person one more chance — even when you’re exhausted by the predictability of the disease.