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Drug prevention partners

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Heroin is not only an epidemic in Jefferson County but across the nation. Law enforcement is noticing a decline in heroin prices, indicating that heroin is plentiful.

Nine of my 28 years in law enforcement were spent in supervision and investigations of narcotics. There was continual frustration in that there never appeared to be a coordinated effort from other branches of government or services that dealt with the problem of prevention, addiction and distribution.

Our politicians are shedding light on the deadly issue. It is up to community leaders to direct the outcome.

I recently attended the New York State Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, a north country information forum directed by Sen. Patti Ritichie and co-directed by Assemblymen Ken Blankenbush and William Barclay. I commend their initiative.

During the forum, I listened intently as loved ones told the stories of heroin overdose deaths and the destruction caused by the distribution and use of heroin. I wish I could say that I had not heard these stories before.

However, only the geographical area and the faces have changed. The drug problem in our nation is a multifaceted issue that encompasses family and parenting, prevention and education, psychology and treatment and, of course, interdiction and enforcement.

So we don’t continue to make the same mistakes of yesteryear, I would urge that we tackle the problem differently. We start by developing a regional comprehensive strategic plan with community partners in the fields of medicine, social work, prevention, education and law enforcement. This is not just an enforcement approach to the drug problem; it is also a coordinated effort from the aforementioned disciplines from which we all bring our resources to bear toward the common goals.

As I listened at the information forum, I heard great ideas and procedures from the functional experts in prevention, treatment and enforcement. One need that was highlighted was detoxification including a need for a local detoxification center.

Is detoxification a law enforcement issue? Many may say no.

However, a detoxification center may help reduce overcrowding in jail. If a subject is arrested who is intoxicated or high, the deputy or arresting officer might elect to issue citations to appear in court and lodge the subject into a detox center where he or she can sober up.

Such was the case last December when I went for a ride-along with my son, a Portland Police Bureau officer. We noticed a subject so intoxicated that he staggered on the sidewalk and would sway five yards to the left into the middle of a major boulevard.

Upon contact, we assessed that the subject was intoxicated on alcohol and marijuana and was soaking wet as if he had been in a swimming pool. The ambient temperature was about 40 degrees.

Was this subject in danger to himself or others? Absolutely. My son took him to a detoxification center, and immediately medical personnel took his temperature, took his blood pressure, listened to his lungs and heart and gave him clean, dry clothes.

The subject was then placed in a locked cage-type cell with others where he could be medically monitored until he sobered up. In the morning, the medical personnel had an opportunity to reason and try to convince the subject to voluntarily enter one of their treatment programs that was one floor above the intake facility. This scenario demonstrated how working with the medical staff and counselors at the detox center kept a bed open at the jail, freed law enforcement personnel, and provided care and opportunities to the individual.

From an enforcement perspective, we may be able to coordinate with federal and state agencies to use their physical, personal and monetary assets to enhance enforcement efforts or to obtain grants for prevention, treatment or enforcement solutions.

When we team with our community partners to solve problems, we use the brain power and resources, many of which frequently provide efficient solutions. There are many situations in treatment, prevention and enforcement where our community partners can attack issues and solve problems for the betterment of all concerned. It is time we coordinate our efforts and resources with our community partners!

As your sheriff, I will lead the charge in this endeavor. However, I hope such a strategic long-term plan commences sooner rather than later as many short- and mid-term goals can and should be initiated. In that vein, I would be happy to volunteer my experience and knowledge toward initiating a comprehensive regional strategic plan.

John Bocciolatt is a candidate for Jefferson County sheriff.

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