January 3, 2013

Meth down, prescription pills up

Sheriff's Office continues 'War on Drugs'

By Nita Johnson
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — When John Root took office as Laurel County Sheriff two years ago, he was determined to keep his campaign promise of a “War on Drugs” within the county.

That year, Root and his deputies and the office of Public Safety/Emergency Management located and destroyed 447 individual meth labs. At that time, meth labs were boiling away inside vehicles, inside homes with children present to inhale the toxic fumes, inside abandoned homes and barns, and some even placed in ditches to ‘cook’ with the meth makers returning later to pick up the finished product.

“When I took office on Jan. 3, 2011, meth was the biggest (drug) problem we had,” Root said. “That’s because it is cheap, easy to make, and a lot of people were making it.”

In fact, Laurel County ranked second in the state in 2011 for the number of meth labs confiscated, outdone only by Jefferson County which boasts 682,247 more people but 51 less square miles than Laurel County.

But the avid drive to reduce those numbers was proven through the 2012 statistics, in which Root reported that his staff had destroyed only 48 meth labs.

“I credit that to the hard work by my staff and the public,” Root said. “I only have 62 employees and we can’t do anything without the public behind us. People call the office on a daily basis to give us tips on where meth labs or other drug activity is going on. Without them, we couldn’t do what we do.”

The Town Hall meetings are another format in which Root said had initiated a better relationship between citizens and law enforcement.

“The sheriff’s office has a great, great relationship with the public and a lot of that’s due to the Town Hall meetings where people can come out and voice their complaints or concerns,” he added. “They may not always be pleased and that’s okay.

“But I think people were tired of laying down at night and wondering if someone was going to break in their home to steal money or (prescription medications),” he added. “They were afraid to let their children go outside because of what this or that neighbor might be doing. I just think people were tired of being afraid and they wanted their county to be better.”

Through the help of his Public Affairs Officer Gilbert Acciardo and the media, Root said the public was keeping informed of the activities of his officers.

“By letting people know what we are doing, I think we have created an outstanding relationship with the public,” he said. “When we find drug dealers, the good people of the county love it. Fortunately, the good people outnumber the bad people. But we want to thank the people of the county for giving us tips because without them, we couldn’t do it.”

With the methamphetamine problem somewhat subdued, Root said the sheriff’s office would focus on prescription pill abuse during 2013.

“When we came into office, meth was the number one problem. Now I think it’s more toward the prescription pills,” Root said. “We’ve had some heroin in some isolated cases, but the prescription pill abuse is the main problem today.”

While Root is hoping that this year brings a stop to much of the prescription pill abuse — especially pain pills — he remains thankful to the public for their support and input to control the county’s drug problem.

“We want to thank the public for their help in reporting  drug dealers,” Root added. “Without them, we couldn’t do it.”