Drug prevention and awareness, particularly in reference to the abused substance known as "bath salts", were discussed at the Feb. 28 Paden City Neighborhood Watch meeting.
Brandi Murray, coordinator of the Wetzel County Substance Abuse Prevention Program, was in attendance to outline the dangers of the substance, which legislation is still attempting to outlaw.
She began by clarifying that the bath salts people abuse are not the same as the bath salts used for bathing and that the name is just a commercial way for drug dealers to market the substance. According to her, bath salts remain legal because of their labeling and four "deceiving" words printed on the packages: not for human consumption. She said another reason they are still legal is because the formula is constantly being tweaked by manufacturers.
She cited an alarming rate of increase in bath salt-related phone calls to the West Virginia Poison Control Center since 2011. She also explained the dangers posed to those who take the drug as well as those in close proximity to them. Side effects of the drug, which she described as "more potent than cocaine," include a high that may last for days, hallucinations, random violent outbursts, and, in some cases, cannibalism.
"Because this is a fairly new drug, we don't know all of the long term effects," she said.
"Education is the key to any problem," Murray said in regard to handling drug trends. She can be reached at 304-455-2468 to answer any questions.
According to Tyler County Prosecuting Attorney Luke Furbee, bath salts are "in our backyard." He cited an operation in Wick recently busted for manufacturing the substance.
"Not only is it already here," he said. "We've already had people making it here."
Furbee brought up another issue that has risen with an influx of drug-related robberies. He said that in the month of February alone, at least three people attempted to drop action against a perpetrator once they discovered that the person who stole from them was either a family member or a friend.
"That's not the way it works," he said, stating that once an investigation begins, it is in the hands of the police.
"What we're faced with now is an underclass of criminals that's mainly been created by a drug epidemic," he said. "We can only lock so many of them up. These people, among other things need mental health treatment."
Another matter Furbee wanted to address was the misunderstanding that some people have with the term "plea agreement." He said that prosecutors look at the strengths and weaknesses of a case, bearing in mind that every prosecution is using tax money. The decision that a prosecutor has to make is whether or not the case is worth potentially spending thousands of dollars to convict them of everything they can. Based on the strength of the evidence, it may be better to persuade them to enter a guilty plea.
He assured that his job is not just to make a conviction, but to make sure that the rights of society and the individual are protected, and that a plea agreement is often the best way to take care of it for government, county treasury, and persons involved.
"I do not prosecute someone if I don't think they're guilty," he said.
Paden City Police Chief Mike Kelly added that it was not possible to take everyone they arrested to trial.
Victim's Advocate Toni VanCamp from Luke Furbee's office also attended to discuss her work under the Victims of Crime Act.
"Before the act was created, victims were basically left in the dark," she said.
She listed the rights under the act: right to notification, right to notification of proceedings in prosecution, right to be notified of plea offers and given ability to express opinion, right of expedient return of property seized for use during investigation, right to complete victim impact statement and make an oral statement to judge at hearing of defendant, right to restitution, and right to be notified of a defendant's release from confinement.
Though those rules guide her job, she said she offers other services above and beyond, such as emotional support, crisis counseling and victim advocacy.
Her reason for attending the meeting was to let neighborhood watch members know that her services are available should they become victims of a violent crime.
When it comes to future plans for the neighborhood watch, Watch Organizer Barbara Hopkins expressed that she would like to hold events that get the entire community involved. Another priority is to educate kids against drug and alcohol abuse. She also expressed gratitude to the Paden City Council for purchasing neighborhood watch signs, which will soon be placed at the edges of town.
Hopkins stated that the raffle for the quilt "Broken Dishes" is going well, and a drawing will be held sometime in March. An "arm length" of tickets can still be purchased for $5. Those interested in purchasing tickets can contact her at 304-337-8742.