Just below the sheen of all the symbols of community pride is a subculture that takes wasted lives and scores of premature deaths in stride.
The dark world of drug abuse in Carbon County
The specter of substance abuse is alive and thriving here. Just below the sheen of all the symbols of community pride is a subculture that takes wasted lives and scores of premature deaths in stride.
The demonstrated promise of complete destruction for addicts - as well as anyone close to them - does little to stop the onset of use. Despite the best efforts of law enforcement, the criminal court system and treatment professionals, those who stand against the endless supply of dope reaching this community resemble lonely sentries trying to stop an invasion.
Through the month of December, the Sun Advocate will run a series of articles showing just how dangerous the substance abuse situation is in Carbon County. The pieces will demonstrate the barriers that keep treatment difficult and ineffective, show the cost of incarceration and its failure to reduce criminal recidivism, and bring to light the pain experienced by those caught in the cycle. The articles will explain the reasons many addicts give for their continued abuse and show the personal and social costs of sustaining their habit.
Many of those interviewed asked that their names be kept anonymous. To protect their privacy and safety, they will be referred to via description only or by a pseudonym.
Like a cancer diagnosis, many who have never faced the substance abuse feel that they never will. According to the substance abuse professionals, law enforcement officers and drug users interviewed, this attitude is dangerous on many levels.
"It's funny, I hear people say all time, 'Who cares, it's just a bunch of dirt bags. Why don't we just let them kill themselves?'" said a current poly-substance abuser who uses methamphetamines and opiates daily. "But then their grandson gets hooked on pills and starts stealing from their home. After that you don't hear from them anymore. I see this and think to myself, I wonder if he still wants all the dirt bag dope fiends to kill themselves?"
Statistics from the Southeastern Utah District Health Department show that the Utah State Medical Examiner has confirmed 24 drug overdose deaths in Carbon County in 2013 alone. And the year isn't over yet.
Records have also shown that individuals tend to kill themselves more often during the holiday season than any other time of the year.
In addition to the drug related deaths, there have been 18 confirmed suicides during the same period. A number that raises confirmed self-inflicted deaths to 42 this year. And that's only half of the story.
"What about all the suspicious deaths they can't confirm?" asked Health Department Educator Debbie Marvidikis. "What the real number is, nobody knows because there are some situations where suicide is a possibility that just can't be confirmed."
According to Marvidikis, the area's recent economic troubles have melded with local substance abuse to create a perfect storm of hopelessness.
"When a person feels they have no hope, suicide becomes an option," she explained. "And in our area it seems that self-inflicted deaths are trending with the economy."
Mining employment as well as general economic conditions have been poor over the past six years, according to the Utah Geological Survey. And while substance abuse in no way targets miners specifically, a lack of energy-related jobs in Carbon County tends to drive the entire economy down.
Jobs go, drugs come
Jobs go away, drugs come around. It's a correlation direct enough to be felt by every socioeconomic sector in a given community. Because while job loss may hit one group harder than another, substance abuse is completely indiscriminate.
According to a poly-substance abusing addict who sells just enough narcotics to keep his habit alive without working, he sells to clients of every class. From rich kids to working middle class users to those who must steal to support their habit; junkies come in all shapes and sizes.
According to Price City Police Capt. Bill Barnes, the drugs being used in Carbon County have remained relatively steady for some time.
For more than 20 years, the hard drugs being used in Carbon County have consisted of speed (Methamphetamines or Meth and pharmaceutical products like Adderall or Phentermine) opiates (heroin or pharmaceuticals such as Oxycontin, Oxycodone, Hydrocodone or Methadone) and Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax or Klonopin).
One major difference he noted was the increase of heroin in Carbon County, a trend which has Drug Task Force Officers working overtime and shaking their heads.
"There is probably three times the heroin here as there used to be," said Barnes. "We have always had local problems with pain pills but the heroin would come from outside the area. Now it's available here in a way it hadn't been before, and the consequences are chilling."
Barnes and several other law enforcement officials spoke of a direct relationship between the amount of drug related deaths in the area and the availability of heroin.
"You know, when somebody is abusing pills, they know what they're getting, and they know how much they've done," said Barnes. "With heroin, it's a crap shoot every time, and it's our friends, family and loved ones who are paying the price."