ELKO — In the summer of 2013, the Free Press ran a series on the problem of methamphetamine in the Elko community. According to Free Press files, as many as one in four arrests in Elko county are connected to drugs in some way.
“It’s a multi-faceted problem,” Elko Police Chief Ben Reed said, adding drug use can lead to domestic violence, burglary and child abuse.
Reed was not the police chief at the time the series was written, but he has seen the problem of meth causing property crime as well as violent crime in the community. He and Lt. Ty Trouten said it affects a lot of people, from users to family members to employers.
Trouten said even the smallest use of meth in a home creates a toxic film over every surface. Children who are taken out of a home with heavy meth use are treated for exposure to hazardous materials.
“If it’s bad for us, it’s really bad for the child,” Trouten said.
Trouten also said a lot of police officers are seeing multi-generational users. They often find themselves arresting the children of users they’ve arrested in the past.
Breaking the cycle of meth abuse is one thing Reed would like to focus on in the upcoming year. A new protocol called the Drug Endangered Children initiative is going to be implemented by the police in 2014. DEC has been tested in other states and proven successful, Reed said. It pools the resources of law enforcement, courts, Nevada Division of Child and Family Services and Partners Allied for Community Excellence Coalition.
Trouten said DEC provides recognition that drug use and the user lifestyle are harmful and acknowledges children are in danger in drug users’ homes. Children can be brought out of that situation and given the care they need.
Reed believes DEC is a significant step for Elko, but it only addresses one component of a big community problem.
Violence and incarceration
Other problems drugs bring into the community are a rise in domestic violence and an increased jail population, Undersheriff Clair Morris said.
The domestic violence is frustrating to Morris, since families and children are involved. He said Nevada has some of the toughest laws in the country on domestic violence, but it’s still a problem.
“I don’t see that improving,” he said. “I wish I knew how to stop it.”
The Elko County Jail is meant to hold 100 inmates, but it averages 120 to 130 during the week and can reach 150 during the busier weekends.
Morris said the jail releases non-violent and non-intoxicated offenders with a court date to keep the population down.
The county expects to break ground on a jail expansion in spring 2014, Morris said. The addition will include a two-story, 84-bed expansion and an upgrade to the existing womens bathroom facilities. But the jail may be in overflow again shortly after the expansion is completed, he said.
Present danger, future threat
Morris thought the message of the dangers of meth is getting out to more people. It’s not a recreational drug, he said, and people who abuse it can end up losing everything they have. However, he said a lot of people are still using meth, since it is easy to make and obtain.
Trouten agreed with Morris, saying most children learn in school that meth is something they don’t want to mess with. Unfortunately, Trouten said, teenagers are turning to abuse of prescription drugs. But prescription drugs are hard to obtain because they must be given out by a doctor and they can’t be made at home, as with meth, he said.
In some instances, a user will turn to heroin abuse because the highs are similar. Heroin is a very addictive and lethal drug. If it is taken by injection, there is also a risk of transmitted diseases from dirty needles. Trouten said Elko is seeing a resurgence of heroin abuse as well.
Undersheriff Clair Morris said the sheriff’s staff is too small to be proactive about drug enforcement. All of their actions are reactive.
One deputy works on the four-person Elko Combined Narcotics Unit in Elko, which is an inter-agency program with city, county and state officers. Morris would like to have another deputy on the task force if possible, but the sheriff’s officer doesn’t have the money for it.
“It’s really our only effective way of combating (drugs) in Elko,” he said. “With the resources they do have, they do a good job, and they’re very productive.”
Morris said the task force does the best with what they have, but it’s still not enough. They’ve just reached the tip of the iceberg in his opinion.
Officers from both departments say drug enforcement is an important part of their job, but lack of funds mean the problem is far from over.