Community enlisted for fight against substances
By Roger Morris Western News Publisher
Ralph Stever is presenting his message wherever people will listen to him.
Eighty percent of the crimes committed in Lincoln County involved drug or alcohol abuse, he told a Libby Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Wednesday. Eighty percent of the caseload of a local organization, which works with families, involves methamphetamine use.
³It¹s an issue,² he said. ³It¹s like the elephant in the closet. When I have 10 to15 percent of my youth involved with the drug, it¹s an indication of what¹s coming down the road.²
Stever is a substance abuse counselor with the Flathead Valley Dependency Clinic. Earlier this year he was named the county preventive specialist. He¹s been working with schools, individuals, parents and businesses, enlisting their help.
³My goal is empowering the community to take action, especially working with youth,² he told the luncheon crowd in Libby. ³My focus is the kindergarten through sixth grader to make the biggest difference.
³Once a kid gets older than 13 years old and is locked into a belief system, I¹m just an old guy up here flapping my gums,² he continued. ³The key to this is early intervention at an early age.²
The night before in Troy, Stever talked to a small group of teachers and parents. He provided dozens of materials identifying various drugs and studies.
³Alcohol is by far our most serious drug in Lincoln County,² he said. ³But meth and oxycontin are used by 60 percent of the people we see. A few years ago that was only 25 percent.²
Along with Troy High School principal Rodney Smith, he rattled off a long list of statistics from the school¹s 2004 survey on drug and alcohol use as well as risky behavior.
Ninety-five percent of the THS seniors said they had tried alcohol at least once, according to the survey results.
³This could have been having a glass of wine with mom and dad at dinner or driving around with friends and having a beer,² Stever said.
Seventy-five percent of the student had reported drinking alcohol within three days of completing the survey and 55 percent reporting participating in binge drinking.
³Half of those kids are going to have problems in the future,² Stever said.
The numbers were equally as alarming with drugs. And it¹s not just Troy, he said.
³Our county is five percent above state average and in certain areas the county is 10 to 15 percent above the average,² Stever said.
Kelly Palmer, THS counselor, said he takes the survey results with a strong ³grain of salt² because other information in the surveys shows that the students are not taking the surveys serious.
However, Palmer said if the statistics are half accurate, it¹s too many.
Stever said there are new drugs, and inhalants, constantly being introduced or tried.
³Have you heard about salvia?² he asked. ³It comes from a sage plant in Mexico and it¹s a hallucinogenic. I learned about at a meeting in Plains and two days later a kid here asked me about it. He told me it¹s being sold in Troy.
³It just boggles my mind about what¹s coming in the future,² Stever said.
³In recent years, drug types have shifted over to substances which act more quickly,² the counselor said. ³For me, we¹re in a treacherous place.²
Despite the warning signs and the ongoing abuse rates in the county, Stever has hope.
³If you think about heart disease, they have been preaching risk prevention factors such as regular exercise and a proper diet for years,² he said. ³We have a lot of preventative factors in our communities. If there is a key in prevention it is connectivity. Adults connecting with kids.²
Stever outlined social history where humans evolved from small self-sustaining tribes where the individual worked for the survival of the entire group, looking after the youth and training them, involving them to be future members of the tribe.
³Today a latchkey kids is being asked to connect to a piece of furniture — the television,² he said. ³Our challenge to the community is to reconnect.²
At the luncheon in Libby, Stever discussed one of those prevention factors — the Meth Watch program. Lincoln County is one of 15 in the state to receive a grant to implement the program which involves businesses in the fight against spreading meth use.
His goal is to recruit 70 businesses in Lincoln and Sanders counties to identify the various products they may sell that can be used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Stever is distributing stickers to put on business doors and tags that can be put on specific products.
³What we¹re doing here is empowering businesses and employees to get on the same page with law enforcement and prosecutors,² Stever said. ³I was recently told that 50 percent of meth busts were tied to information provided by businesses.²
Stever said when the state was designing the product tags, he suggested putting a set of eyes on the tags that would follow the prospective buyer.
³One of the conditions of meth use is heightened paranoia,² he said. ³Basically, the tags gets the message out and adds to the fear factor for these people.²
And the tags help businesses keep track of the potentially dangerous materials.
Businesses interested in participating in Meth Watch can contact Stever at the Flathead Valley Chemical Dependency clinic in Libby at 293-7731.