Local war on drugs needs vigilance

Published 11:31 am Tuesday, May 22, 2012

By CHRIS GEORGE / Guest Columnist

I’m often asked how the war on drugs is actually going. I will say with confidence that the easiest way to abstain from drug use is to say “no,” but I also understand our children are inquisitive — sometimes to their detriment.

The war on drugs is a battle that law enforcement, fire and rescue personnel and the coroner share with everyone. According to White House statistics, drug abuse was responsible for the death of 38,371 Americans in 2007 and in 2009; 10.5 million reported they had driven under the influence of illicit drugs.

To localize these numbers to Shelby County, we’ve had nearly 300 deaths related to drug overdose in the last nine years. Those were 300 sons, daughters, moms and dads.

However, we have won battles as well. Since the inception of our Drug Enforcement Task Force in 2004, we have obtained warrants on more than 4,000 defendants for drug-related offenses. Of these numbers, more than 200 were for trafficking in drugs, nearly 700 for the distribution of drugs, and more than 1,500 for possession of illegal narcotics. The ultimate victory is hearing a drug dealer tell an informant that he isn’t coming to Shelby County to sell because he doesn’t want to get caught. However, this message is becoming more difficult to send out due to financial restraints and apathy amongst those it doesn’t directly affect.

The illegal drug trade increases the level of violence in a community. In 2009, The Department of Justice reported that there were 900,000 criminally active gang members representing 20,000 gangs nationwide. We have identified 41 of those gangs within Shelby County.

We are also seeing an increase in the number of violent crimes, burglary and theft incidents.

Researchers tell us that 90 percent of drug addicts tried drugs before they were 18 years old, and our own research tells us that kids are experimenting with drugs before high school. Talking to your 16-year-old about drug abuse is too late. It is likely your children will hear from a drug user before they are 12 years old. We must educate our children on the effects of this lifestyle sooner rather than later.

Capt. Chris George is a commander with the Criminal Investigations Division of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. He can be reached at cgeorge@shelbyso.com.