“As a community, one of the biggest problems we face is the prevalence of drugs—in particular, the worst of the bunch: heroin, meth, and synthetic opiates (fentanyl and its derivatives),” Franklin County Prosecutor Chris Huerkamp began as he discussed the very real drug use in our small community. 

Huerkamp referenced Franklin County's drug problem as including some of the “worst of the bunch,” and for a good reason. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse states, “meth is an extremely addictive stimulant drug that can be taken orally, smoked, snorted, or injected.” Even in small doses, meth can increase wakefulness and physical activity and decrease appetite.” While these may seem like desirable effects, meth users are more likely to take the drug because they want to feel its robust and euphoric high. When meth enters a person's system, it will quickly cause the release of a large amount of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain which “is involved in motivation, the experience of pleasure, and motor function.”

Huerkamp has not seen many “casual or social users of these particular drugs—at least not for long.” The long term effects of methamphetamine use are severe and easier to notice, but for many, are nearly unimaginable. Frequent meth use side effects include anxiety, depression, violent behavior, insomnia, extreme weight loss, “meth mouth” (severe dental decay), hallucinations or delusions, and sores from scratching at imagined bugs crawling underneath the skin.

“From what I've seen, the cycle is usually: use, become addicted, see your life destroyed—with arrest/jail/probation/imprisonment/overdose and even premature death somewhere in the mix,” Huerkamp said.

Another major concern facing rural communities is fentanyl. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opiod similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It is a prescription drug that is made and used illegally.

Huerkamp continued, “The effects of these drugs extend far beyond the user—destruction of the family, unemployability, violent crime—just to name a few. In fact, most users of these powerful substances endanger others with their drug-induced or drug-seeking behavior, whether it be theft to support a habit, driving a car while under the influence, or acts of family and even random violence.
“I don't think there can be much disagreement that those who supply these drugs and profit from the misery sown belong in prison. The much tougher question is how the criminal justice system should treat the “user”. It's worth keeping in mind that one in possession of heroin, fentanyl, or meth is committing a felony-level offense. And that is why effective drug interdiction starts at the source—the user. Arrest and detention is necessary--not only to stem the ripple effect that I mentioned above, but also because a jail stint might be the only thing keeping the user from the cemetery. That being said, there are and should be opportunities for treatment, rehab, and second chances. In fact, those of us in law enforcement root for success stories (probably because, unfortunately, we don't see enough of them when it comes to this stuff). But the first step towards any meaningful rehabilitation, and, more importantly, the protection of the community, has to begin with getting the user off the street. That usually means a trip to jail, at least as a start.

“On top of all that, Franklin County is not immune to external factors over which it is has no control. As a prime example, the ongoing crisis at the Southern Border has created conditions that have increased the influx of dangerous drugs into the U.S. at an astonishing rate. I've seen several headlines over the last couple of weeks regarding seizures of record amounts of fentanyl (tiny amounts of which can kill your average person) at or near the border. But even the most efficient interdiction efforts are only intercepting a fraction of what's really crossing the border. Where does the rest of it go? Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that it quickly makes its way throughout the country, from our largest urban centers to close-knit rural communities like Franklin County.” 

Part two of the series will run in next week's edition of the Brookville Democrat/American.