Carbon commissioners discuss meth problem, drug court idea
For the general public, Carbon County may seem to be a quiet, safe place to live. But during a regular Carbon County Commission meeting on Jan. 7, a group of local professionals involved with public safety, health and family services painted a different picture of the area - one of abuse and chemical dependency.
"Drug abuse is a problem of increasing importance in our community," pointed out Bev Hart, regional department of child and family services director.
"Methamphetamine use in the area continues to grow quickly and one of the things we have learned is that all the rural areas in the state are being targeted by not only the users of the drug, but also by the cookers as well," added the DCFS regional director.
The lives of people involved in the meth culture revolve around the drug, explained Hart. No place is immune - the drug problem is prevalent in all neighborhoods.
Hart's agency comes into play when parents or guardians are arrested for using the illicit drug or inappropriate conditions are reported at homes.
Meth-related problems create a situation where the agency must remove children from the scene.
Currently, 80 children from Carbon County are in state custody due to the alleged drug problems of parents or guardians.
"We have one of highest removal rates in the state," said Hart. "Fifteen out of every 1,000 kids in the county are in state custody right now."
Hart was part of a multi-discipline group attending the meeting and informing the commission of the efforts to set up a task force to combat the meth problem.
"We need a fully funded drug court to deal with this," said Hart on behalf of the group.
Commissioners reviewed documents on child custody matters in the county presented by Hart.
Documents obtained later by the Sun Advocate indicate that Carbon is actually the second highest county in the state in the category in question.
In addition, the six counties with the highest removal rates in Utah are located in the eastern part of the state. Grand has the highest removal rate. Carbon is second, Duchesne third, Uintah-Daggett fourth and Emery fifth.
There is more involved in the problem of children in state custody than meth. But the drug seems to compound the situations faced by youth and parents or guardians.
Commissioners wondered what a drug court would cost and why it would help with the problems.
"A fully funded court would cost approximately $275,000 per year," said Hart.
But a more complete answer to the complex question was provided at the last county commission meeting by Judge Scott N. Johansen.
"Three years ago, we received a grant from the federal government to set up a drug court in Emery County," explained Judge Johansen. "The court includes funding for a full-time officer as well as money for Four Corners Mental Health to provide treatment. This court has been the most effective thing I have seen to get people off drugs. We want to do the same thing here in Carbon, but we have no money to do it."
Johansen discussed what he has observed and said that most meth addicts are single mothers in their 20s with small children.
"Ninety percent of my cases here in Carbon have to do with drugs and the worst cases involve meth," indicated Judge Johansen. "There are a lot of costs to this for the community. For instance, the public defenders the county pays for are costing you a lot of money. And crime in the area is much higher because people have to steal to fund their habits."
Commissioners asked if the recent protests outside the county courthouse had anything to do with meth. Hart replied that "some of it has to do with that."
"DCFS may appear to be like a bunch of Nazis in how they have to handle these cases with kids," added Judge Johansen. "But it's the parents who are putting their children at risk who create the problem."
The group attending the commission meeting has formed a task force to get a drug court along with treatment options up and running in the county.
But the members of the group continue to run into roadblocks, primarily because money is not available to fund and establish a comprehensive local drug court project.
"We can do prevention. But because we are over loaded, only so much help is available," said Terry Willis, director of the Family and Children's Justice Center. "We have found that families who use our services can get out of the drug culture and stay out."
After briefly discussing the matter, the commissioners decided to gather additional background information regarding the local meth problems and allow the public a chance to comment on the idea of implementing a local drug court program.
Carbon lawmakers scheduled a public hearing in the matter as part of the regular Jan. 21 commission meeting. The agenda item should come up for discussion at about 6 p.m.