NEWS HEADLINES

Meth forum draws crowd

By Kristen Tribe | Published Saturday, August 11, 2018
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Thirty-five years ago, Lane Akin was a brand new narcotics agent.

He was working undercover in a rural Texas town and had befriended a couple immersed in the drug culture. He had a pocket full of money, and as they introduced him to local meth dealers, he made buy after buy, building cases.

Lane Akin

He recalled the story in a somber moment during Tuesday night’s community forum on methamphetamine, planned by the sheriff’s office and the Wise County Community Health Improvement Initiative.

The couple had no idea he was a police officer. They were just along for a good time.

“During one of those transactions, I looked into the backseat and the young woman, who was about six months pregnant, was injecting methamphetamine into her arm,” he said, choking up. He paused before continuing.

“I was sitting there, a brand new agent,” he said. “‘It’s all about the greater good.’ That’s what I was told so many times. And so I didn’t say anything.

“I didn’t do anything.”

Akin said that was the start of a deal that went on to seize five or six labs in Arkansas, Oklahoma and across parts of Texas.

“But there’s not a week that goes by that I don’t think about that woman in the backseat of my car,” he said. “What should I have done? What would I do now?

“Maybe I’m not all about the greater good. Maybe I’m about the moment that we can save a life.”

Akin is hopeful that the conversation started at the forum this week helped connect law enforcement, health care professionals and non-profit agencies to better address the methamphetamine problem in Wise County and help addicts recover.

The sheriff explained that 85 percent of the Wise County Jail population landed there for reasons directly or indirectly associated with meth. When he first started working undercover, 1 gram (about the size of a Sweet’N Low packet) cost $100. Today it’s a mere 30 bucks.

“Now all the methamphetamine we see is coming from Mexico, probably coming across in Arizona and then back down (U.S.) 287 to the Metroplex and East Coast,” he said. “They are manufacturing it 30, 40, 50 pounds at a time.

Sheriff’s Office Enforcement Captain Wes Wallace gave a presentation on Crimestoppers, and the meeting concluded with a question-and-answer session featuring Akin, County Attorney James Stainton, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Berry, Wise Health System Behavioral Health Director Melanie Whittle, WHS EAP Manager Megan Adams and WHS Director of Emergency Services Kellye Souther.

Some of the questions included the following:

How do you get help for someone who doesn’t want it?

Whittle: “For mental health it’s easy. For substance abuse, it’s not as easy. You have to look at risk factors. You are going to have to get someone to seek treatment. Legally, and this is from my perspective, if they’re on probation, it’s much easier to get them into programs that are required as part of their overall probation program.”

You hear many say they start because it “makes the pain go away” or makes them forget. What can we do to stop the beginning of the battle?

Adams: “Sometimes it’s related to trauma. Sometimes it’s related to the fact they’ve been on a certain medication their entire life and then they lose access to that medication and go to the street to find something to give them that same feeling. There are many elements to the answer to that question. I think individualized treatment is important. When you are a family member of someone who is addicted or someone who is self-medicating, recognizing red flags, setting boundaries, helping educate them … there are lots of different things that can be put in place in the beginning. We want to seek the root cause. What is causing people to seek this out?”

What programs are used to encourage people to get clean and stay clean? Are small support groups in place for those being released?

Adams: “For our area we have a lot of good resources for the things that maybe lead to addiction. We have a really robust AA group for our community and it’s all about getting people connected to those support groups and those people being motivated for change. I think a lot of times when you can get clean, if that root cause hasn’t been addressed, then they’ll revert back to what’s comfortable and what’s easier.”

Berry: “For law enforcement, the primary programs are provided through the probation department. We can put somebody in jail or we can send them to prison, but we know that doesn’t work because they get out and keep doing the same things over and over again. One of the things I’ve tried to do is when I get a drug case, we’ll offer alternatives to the penitentiary that involve treatment or sometimes we’ll offer to give a lesser sentence or a probated sentence, where they may not deserve it because of their criminal history, if they’ll voluntarily check into some type of substance abuse type program, prior to ever being sentenced.”

Berry added there are also treatment programs through the penitentiary.

Stainton: “On the misdemeanor side, there’s a lot less assets. We get a ton of cases by volume and a lot of them are connected to meth. We do not have access to the same level of care like on the felony side. In my office, we do our best to identify those people who are more susceptible to treatment … I personally talk to these folks and try to the best of my ability from working with MHMR to identify the ones who are more susceptible to treatment and provide them some motivation and access to programs. When you have someone charged with a criminal offense, you do have some leverage to help them to live a different life. We send them to faith-based programs, STAR Council, MHMR … I send them any place I think they can get access to help. That’s the best we have on the misdemeanor level and that’s something I’d like to see changed at the state level, give the misdemeanor level more access to programs like those for people who committed felonies.”

What can we do in public schools to better provide curriculum educating students about the danger of drugs?

Akin: “There are many programs available. The only thing I can control as the sheriff are the school resource officers that we now have in five different school districts. We’re constantly seeking better programs to educate these children. We want to touch those young lives so they can see what meth use can do and the way it can send you down the wrong path.”

Whittle: “We’re looking at several things in the schools. Intervention is definitely first and foremost on our minds with our kids.”

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Not every question asked at the forum was included in this story. Also, some answers were edited for length.

A recording of the entire forum will soon be available online, courtesy of the Wise County Community Health Improvement Initiative. It will also post a podcast answering questions that were submitted, but not addressed, during the hour-and-a-half time limit.

Watch the Messenger for more details on when this information will be available.

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