Danielle Stewart for Mayor of Beckley

Position Paper #2: Fighting the Drug Epidemic

 

“You can’t kill your way out of an Insurgency” – General David Petraeus

 

“You can’t arrest your way out of a drug epidemic” – Danielle Stewart

 

It is rare to find a family in Beckley whose life has not been touched by the drug epidemic in our community.  Overdoses in the street, increased crime, infectious diseases, grandparents raising grandchildren, and homelessness are just some of the ramifications caused by the drug problem in our community.  How does a community overcome so many drug related issues?

 

We have numerous agencies in the community working on the problem.  One agency offers comprehensive harm reduction. One agency works on homelessness. One agency works crimes.  One agency works on rapid response.  One agency works emergency response. One agency provides medical assistive treatments.  All of these agencies are busy, and they all do great work but why are they not having the desired impact?  Who do you talk to that knows what options are available?

 

Some people will say that our best option is to arrest all addicts and ship them off to prison but is that feasible?  It costs the county about $40 per person per day to keep someone in jail; that equals almost $15,000 per person per year!  The Southern Regional Jail, and all prisons in WV, are currently overpopulated with some facilities at 150% of capacity!  Can taxpayers afford to pay for more prisons and prisoners?  The Raleigh County Commission has already asked the state to allow them to add a 1% sales tax JUST TO PAY FOR PRISONS.  Or worse for Beckley, the county commission wants to pass the tax bill off to our city (Click here for news article).

 

And then what happens after a felon is released?  A felony drug conviction means no public housing assistance and no access to educational funding – EVER.  Job opportunities are severely limited.  Even if an addict gets clean in prison, the punishment continues the rest of their lives and so they are stuck getting what public assistance they can – we STILL foot the bill for the rest of their lives.

 

The City of Huntington is working on the drug epidemic and is having success.  The city developed a guide called The City of Solutions (Click to see overview article) that highlight the various efforts of all the agencies fighting to defeat the drug epidemic in their city.  There are many agencies providing services along the continuum of care from prevention to early intervention, treatment, and recovery.  The main point of the guide is that it takes an entire community, working together, to find solutions to all the problems. 

 

As Mayor of Beckley, I will personally lead the creation of our own City of Solutions (Click to see the document).  I will ensure the city takes the lead in coordinating the agencies that are fighting the drug epidemic here.  I will support the Raleigh County Substance Use Prevention Coalition (Click to go to their Facebook page) by assigning one police officer and one fireman to serve on the coalition, in addition to serving myself.  I will also champion and support implementation of the Icelandic Prevention Model (Click for more information on the IPM) to reduce rates of adolescent drug use in Beckley.  I will work with our local higher education institutions to train Family Resource Navigators (Click to see information about FRNs) – social workers charged with helping addicts and their families find the help they need.  There are many more things our city can and will do as we fight the drug epidemic.

 

Projected Costs: Unknown at this time

 

This effort will not be free but from the city perspective the costs should be manageable as most services are already being provided by other community agencies with their own funding sources.  Although we will lead the effort, we are in support of the other organizations on the front lines of the epidemic.  I plan to fund our efforts through allocations from the city's 1% sales tax.

 

If I had just one other message to pass to the citizens of Beckley it is this: these addicts are our neighbors; our sons and daughters; spouses and parents; friends and family.  Real people who need HELP, not just “another addict”. We are all impacted by this problem and only by working together will we defeat it.