Meth never left Daviess County

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Washington Times Herald on 12/28/2019 by Mike Grant

When the opioid problem hit rural Indiana it appeared that it would have a limited impact on Daviess County. The hit was nothing like the scourge that methamphetamine produced when it rolled into southwestern Indiana in the 1990s. Still, officials say the opioid problem did have an impact.

“About two or three years ago we started seeing CHINS (Children in Need of Support) cases going through the roof here and in about every county in the state and every state in the country,” said Daviess Circuit Judge Greg Smith. “I can tell you our numbers have been about one-third higher than the five years before that.”

Smith’s court handles both CHINS and juvenile cases, while most of the criminal drug cases are heard in superior court. He was working as the county prosecutor when the first wave of methamphetamine cases began to come into the area.

“I remember that,” said Smith. “One of the first busts was a guy from St. Louis who had a recipe for meth and it all went nuts after that.”

While meth, like opioids, was addictive, the difference was that meth could be made at home. Opioids had to be imported into the community in some way. While the problem was building, Smith says the state, with some federal funding, began reacting. One of the things was to bring judges, prosecutors, probation, and police together to try and deal with the addiction issue.

“They did a lot better job reacting this time around with the opioids than they did to the meth several years ago,” said Smith. “We’re getting a lot better about seeking treatment rather than just incarceration. And the federal and state have put their money where their mouth is offering some financial backing for treatment options.”

While opioid cases are slowing down, methamphetamine cases in Daviess County continue to create the most problems.

“We’re not really seeing a resurgence of meth,” said Daviess County Sheriff Gary Allison. “In southwestern Indiana it never went away.”

Meth appeared in the 1990s and took off around 2000. That left jails overflowing. Virtually every county in southwestern Indiana built a new jail because of meth use. Daviess County went from a jail that held fewer than 50 prisoners to one that now can house more than 250.

“It just took off and kept growing,” said Allison.

When the Daviess County jail opened in 2004, the county decided to try something different. It began a treatment program inside the jail called RARE to try and get people to move away from drugs — specifically meth.

“Drug treatment in local jails was unheard of at that time,” said Allison. “It has really slowed down our recidivism. It is very rare for me to go through town where I don’t see someone who went through the RARE program and stayed clean.”

“The RARE program is making a big difference,” added Smith. “They’ve had it longer in fact than the DOC (Department of Corrections) programs that are very similar. This sheriff’s department was way ahead of the game in getting assistance to folks who needed it. That’s a big thing.”

The meth issue for years was largely one for southwestern Indiana alone and that left local people to figure out ways to deal with it because they were not getting state or federal support. The result was the home development of some faith-based treatment options.

“To have some of the faith-based treatment options we have available in the area, those are a tremendous asset,” said Smith. “They bring services that a lot of communities our size cannot deliver.”

Even with those efforts, meth continues to create havoc for both the courts and the people who take it. About 80 percent of the cases in circuit court somehow circle back to meth.

“If mom, dad or both have been arrested on a substance violation then I will see the kids are detained,” said Smith. “We first look to families for placement, but if we can’t find someone they go into foster homes. Sometimes the kids have been fending for themselves for so long, they are out getting into mischief, breaking into cars, what-not, so we’ve then got kids detained for juvenile delinquency.”

Meth cases lead to increased instances of abuse and neglect of children and problems for the family. It also is putting a crushing burden on taxpayers.

“With our system with DCS (Department of Child Services) these are largely state dollars being spent in every county that does CHINS cases,” said Smith. “Mom and dad are in your county jail. Those are local funds being used. They aren’t contributing. They aren’t working. They don’t have a job and can’t get a job. Then public benefits get put into play. It’s a big drain on our resources. All of that takes a lot of money and it all started increasing with the drug epidemic.”

Police around the state had hoped that making some of the ingredients for the manufacture of meth more difficult to obtain that they might be able to put the meth genie back into the bottle. It has cut down on the number of meth labs police find but not the use of the drug.

“The law to limit and track pseudoephedrine has really had an impact on meth labs,” said Allison. “Now, almost all of it is imported to the community. It is as easy to get it into the area as it is to make it locally and the price is about the same.”

The ongoing trouble with meth has now raised the budget for the sheriff’s department to $1.9 million and for the jail $3.1 million.

“It’s all about the meth,” said Allison.