EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the latest in a series of occasional
stories on the Texas Rural Survey conducted by researchers at
Sam Houston State University’s Center for Rural Studies.
Efforts to combat illegal drug use are ongoing as the issue is still a problem that depletes communities’ resources, law enforcement officials said.
In Smith County, 189 people were jailed on drug-related charges this year through Wednesday, a 42.1 percent jump from the 133 arrested from Jan. 1 through June 26 of 2012, according to sheriff’s office data. That includes arrests made by various Smith County law enforcement agencies.
From Jan. 1 to June 1, Rusk County agencies had 142 drug charges, according to data from the sheriff’s office. That included 64 charges for possession of marijuana less than two ounces; 19 charges for possession of a controlled substance less than one gram; 16 charges for possession of a controlled substance less than 28 grams; and eight charges for possession of a dangerous drug.
And in Cherokee County, the sheriff’s office as of Tuesday had made about 100 drug arrests this year, Detective Fred Butler said. About 50 percent were methamphetamine, about 30 percent were marijuana, about 10 percent were dangerous drugs and about 10 percent were crack and cocaine.
It appears it is not only a concern in East Texas, but one that can be seen across the state.
A recent Texas Rural Survey conducted by researchers at Sam Houston State University’s Center for Rural Studies showed that when given more than 30 proposed issues that could be viewed as community problems, illegal drug use ranked in the top 12, according to a news release.
More than 4,100 households in 22 towns, including Big Sandy, Lampasas, Paradise and Abernathy, were part of the survey. All of the rural communities had a 2010 population of up to 10,000.
In Rusk County, Sheriff Jeff Price said a lot of criminal activity as far as forgery, theft and burglary can be traced back to drugs.
“Basically, they’re stealing to supply their habit,” he said.
Therefore, he said his narcotics unit is working closely with Henderson Police and other narcotics agents to slow it and get offenders off the streets. From a patrol standpoint, he said officers are working on thefts and burglaries to catch criminals in the act.
Price said illegal drug use drains resources from different agencies, not only from battling narcotics offenses, but also other crimes associated with it. He said that includes resources spent housing alleged criminals in jail.
“It’s an economical thing that everyone out there who pays taxes bears the brunt of,” he said.
Price said drug arrests occur in all parts of the county, and one thing that has increased is charges for prescription medications.
Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor said his agency’s call volume has doubled in recent years, which he attributed in part to drug use.
“None of us in law enforcement have resources that would be adequate (to eliminate the problem),” Taylor said. “We just have to be the best we can with what we’ve got.”
While the use and distribution of drugs is a problem in the county, he said he doesn’t think it’s worse or better than in other East Texas counties.
“We have every drug here that you can imagine. The influence of methamphetamines from Mexico is definitely a problem for East Texas, and we’re not immune to it,” he said.
He said his officers make arrests each month for methamphetamine and other drugs, and police officers in Palestine make a lot of arrests.
“It’s common. We run numerous search warrants a year for distribution,” Taylor said.
But he said arrests for drug possession are more common than arrests for manufacture/delivery, and illegal drug use “crosses all (demographic) boundaries,” but it does seem more prevalent in the lower socio-economical areas.
As far as the effect of illegal drug use, he said it destroys millions of lives nationwide.
But the biggest effect is that it can destroy family relationships, he said.
“The problem in the … U.S. is the appetite for drugs. ... (And) the only way to stop illegal drugs is to stop people from wanting illegal drugs,” Taylor said.
“It’s an issue. People get addicted, and people will do anything to feed that addiction.”
Cherokee County Sheriff’s Detective Fred Butler agreed.
“It’s devastating … families, work situations. It’s harming people,” he said.
He said that cases also overload the District Attorney’s Office, the court system and ultimately the penal system. He said that drug cases also affect ambulance services and emergency rooms.
He also agreed that he believes drug use is a problem that transcends socio-economical groups and includes all types of drugs.
“It’s highly addictive, so people want it,” Butler said.
He said law enforcement is using methods to try to tackle the problem and works with other area agencies.
“The Cherokee County (Sheriff’s Office) aggressively investigates drug offenses and drug-related crimes,” he said. “The (sheriff’s office) regularly teams up with local police agencies, in particular the Jacksonville (police department) and the FBI. Several federal indictments were the result of the agencies cooperating and targeting drug organizations in Cherokee (County).”
Butler also referenced education, calling it “key to the SO strategy.” He said that the agency has an officer who goes to schools to educate students about drug use, and visits civic organizations and church groups.
In the meantime, he said residents can report illegal drug use to law enforcement.