Listowel Banner/Minto Express editorial
Many years ago, testimony in a particularly sordid trial at the Woodstock courthouse led one court employee to comment on a circle of people frequently seen on the docket, something along the lines of, “All they do is drink, do drugs and have sex, and sometimes they kill.”
It seems Woodstock has changed little over the years. That pleasant, small city with its tree-lined streets, gracious parks and stately homes has always had a darker side. The various people involved in that long-ago case were little different from the pair of fiends who murdered little Tori Stafford. Apparently surfing Internet porn has replaced hanging out at sleazy stripper bars as the pastime of choice. Their drug of choice, and that of others including the mother of the victim, and the mother of one of the killers, was OxyContin, not marijuana and crack cocaine. But the criminals in both cases are so similar they could be carbon copies – drug-violent, sex-obsessed and unemployed, skating along the ragged edge of what might be termed normal society.
Woodstock is not unique, unfortunately. Addiction to OxyContin, also known as hillbilly heroin, plagues isolated northern communities as well as urban areas. The opiate is an effective painkilling medication if taken as directed. However, if ground up and snorted or injected, it delivers a powerful, long-lasting high. Recently, steps have been taken to make the drug less subject to abuse; the original formulation has been replaced with something called OxyNeo – still addictive, but harder to grind up and/or dissolve. The general consensus is the change is a small step in the right direction.
In this part of the province, the drug of choice tends to be methamphetamine, and its use is rampant. Meth – crank, crystal, hillbilly heroin – is cheap and relatively easy to produce, and the characteristic odour is not so noticeable in agricultural areas. By all accounts, the stuff is viciously addictive, and users tend to be as volatile as some of the substances used in the drug’s production. Every now and then, police bust a meth lab, but the problem is far larger than the resources to fight it. It is like trying to fight a forest fire with water pistols.
Meth, along with OxyContin, marijuana and cocaine are not hard to find around here if you know where to look. Most high school students would have no problem directing someone to a supplier of whatever drug he or she wants.
Our mental image of drug addiction often involves an inner city slum and organized crime despite the fact we know drug abuse occurs in this area. The Rafferty trial made us revise our image. Forget the bags of heroin and biker gangs. Here, it is the punks caught breaking into cars on a regular basis, the twitchy kids who are always getting kicked out of the variety store because they shoplift (favourite targets being cough medicine and penny candy), the people in the next apartment who have visitors dropping by at all hours of the night. It is neighbours, classmates, maybe even family and friends. It might be your son’s buddy who used to practically live at your house until you started noticing things going missing, or your sister’s ex with the restraining order against him.
Drug abuse does not exist in a vacuum. Positive relationships get replaced by drug connections. Someone whose priority is his next hit of whatever he is hooked on, has no scruples about stealing from his employer, best friend or ailing mother; selling drugs to public school kids; or pimping out his girlfriend. Families are destroyed and careers ruined. Crime rates go up – not just theft, but assault, child abuse, fraud and mischief.
Drug addiction is much more than a crime issue. It is also a healthcare issue, a social issue. We have a desperate need for more addiction treatment options than the local emergency department or a jail cell, especially in rural areas. We need more health care dollars slated for addiction treatment, more police resources devoted to combating addiction-related crime, and more educational resources aimed at prevention. Most of all, we need recognition that drug addiction hurts us all. And we need to recognize there are no easy answers.
If the battle against drug abuse and addiction is to be won, it must be fought on many fronts, by the whole community, for the sake of the whole community. Anti-drug task forces? Great idea. Increased enforcement? Good. Educating parents as well as students? Makes sense. Implementing community-based treatment programs? Necessary. Losing this battle is not an option.