By Magen McCrarey
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Local law enforcement and government leaders vowed to “take back” Laurel County on Thursday during the RISE Above Drugs Coalition’s Town Hall meeting. More than 70 concerned citizens attended the meeting at the London Community Center, which was hosted by Sunrise Children’s Services.
“The meth problem that we had in the county in 2011 was overwhelming, with 447 meth labs taken down by the sheriff’s office alone,” said Laurel County Sheriff John Root, one of the night’s panelists.
Town hall panelists also included Laurel County Judge Executive David Westerfield, London Mayor Troy Rudder, Carl Varney with Operation UNITE, London Police Chief Stewart Walker, London Police Sgt. Chris Edwards, London-Laurel Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Deanna Herrmann, and Laurel County Attorney Brandon Jones.
“Last year, in 2012, only 48 labs were taken down in the county — a difference of 399 labs,” he continued. “We still have meth in the county, and probably will continue to, but nothing like we did.”
Budgeting for more law enforcement to alleviate the drug problem altogether is one of the main concerns for city and county officials. Meanwhile, the illegal trafficking of prescription pills has now become the largest issue facing London and Laurel County law enforcement agencies.
London Police reported their narcotics officer is currently handling 300 cases, with task force officers working directly with the DEA and FBI. Westerfield added the Laurel County Detention Center now has four times the amount of inmates than it did 15 years ago, and at any given time there are 400 people incarcerated at the jail.
“We worry to death about alcohol in the city, but in 2011, 175 DUI arrest were made in this city, and in 2012, 145. Twenty percent (of the arrests) were alcohol related — the rest were prescription drugs,” Rudder said.
Given the far reaching scope of the drug problem in the community, Rudder said there is no other problem that could be solved that would have a greater positive impact on the people and community at large. Locally, statewide and nationally, there is a “lost generation” of drug users who are leaving their children to fend for themselves or be raised by grandparents, many panelists said.
“They are dying … they are essentially dead with the meth problem, with the prescription drug problem,” Rudder said.
Panelists urgently pressed that its up the community to help law enforcement battle the overwhelming drug problem by providing tips and keeping a watchful eye on suspicious activity.
Vanessa Fleming, director of operations for Old Blue (the owning company for both the North and South Main Street Sonic locations), stated she had to close down the north Main Sonic drive-in restaurant because of drug activity among employees.
“We battled drugs in our store,” Fleming said. “I had names but debated … Should I report this?”
After losing funds and viable employees, Fleming said she felt that her employee’s drug issue was not big enough for the local law enforcement to get involved. Walker replied quite the contrary, declaring that no job is too small and that every tip is appreciated. Even some of the smallest cases can lead to a bigger drug bust, shedding light on local career criminals.
“One pill or 100 pills, we want to know about it. We want the smallest drug dealer in the community, because we want to combat the (overall) problem,” Walker said.
Drug issues not only affect public safety, the quality of life for the children of drug abusers, but also potential businesses that look to relocate to the area, according to Herrmann.
“A lot of industries don’t come overnight. There’s a lot of research that goes into it. There’s a lot of touring the area,” Herrmann said. “Industry needs a clean community and a viable workforce. When they come here, they reinvest in this community so we need to be supportive of them and be supportive of the workforce that they need.”
Panelists concluded the discussion with holding the county’s youth accountable and to change the drug culture in the school system. Varney with UNITE stated youth programs promoting a drug free lifestyle have been implemented in the Laurel County Schools. Students are getting across the message that “it’s cool to not do drugs.”
“Yes, we do have a drug problem, but I can definitely see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Root said.
“It’s up to you, it’s up to us,” Rudder added.
For more information about RISE, visit www.risecoalition.com, or call 606-862-9132.