At left: Juvenile Court Judge Michael Wehrkamp (left) urged parents to talk to their kids about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. Kids whose parents talk to them are less likely to use and misuse substances. Another panelist was Sheriff Jason Landers (seated).
At Right: Judge Tiffany Beckman, Paulding County Common Pleas Court, addresses the audience at the drug forum. Melinda Krick/Paulding County Progress
At left: Juvenile Court Judge Michael Wehrkamp (left) urged parents to talk to their kids about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. Kids whose parents talk to them are less likely to use and misuse substances. Another panelist was Sheriff Jason Landers (seated). At Right: Judge Tiffany Beckman, Paulding County Common Pleas Court, addresses the audience at the drug forum. Melinda Krick/Paulding County Progress

Progress Editor

PAULDING – “Are opiates and drugs a problem in Paulding County? Absolutely,” Sheriff Jason Landers told the audience at a Paulding County Drug & Opiate Forum held Thursday, May 10, in Paulding.

The two-hour event, held at the OSU Extension Building, was sponsored by the Republican Women of Paulding County for the community to discuss local opiate and drug problems. Those attending heard a wide variety of information on the gamut of the drug epidemic, including law enforcement, legislators, judges and recovering addicts.

Laurie Lucas, who helped organize the event, introduced the evening’s speakers:

• Sheriff Jason Landers, plus two undercover officers

• State Sen. Rob McColley

• Judge Michael Wehrkamp, Juvenile Court

• Judge Tiffany Beckman, Common Pleas Court, plus two Drug Court participants

• Jennifer Lloyd, director, Drug Outreach Initiatives, Office of the Ohio Attorney General

• Sammie Hall and Dr. John Buonocore, pain management group, Paulding County Hospital

• Michael Schweinsberg, OSU Extension

The Progress live-streamed the event via Facebook.

“To see some of the folks in the room today tells me how important this is, from elected officials to parents to some folks who have been affected by it personally,” said Landers, who is in his sixth year in office.

When people fall into an addition, it affects so many people. Addicts are not any one race or lifestyle - “It’s everybody and for a variety of reasons,” he said.

The popularity of illegal drugs keeps evolving. A few years ago, it was the one-batch “shake and bake” methamphetamine era, then heroin, crystal meth, fentanyl and carfentanil.

“We’re very fortunate with overdoses compared to our neighboring counties or more populated areas,” Landers noted.

The sheriff’s website has an anonymous tip email. Most people would be truly amazed to know how many anonymous drug enforcement tips the sheriff receives. It’s a one-way line of information that is truly anonymous; Landers cannot see who sent the tip and cannot reply to the sender. He reads each message personally and are forwarded to officers to investigate.

Landers shared some statistics about local drug cases. In the past 12 months, 78 people have been indicted on felony drug charges, such as possession.

In December, he realized he didn’t have enough help to handle drug investigations. In January, he took a supervisor off the road and put him in the drug unit to supplement his other full-time guy.

Two of the sheriff’s undercover officers also spoke to the group.

The first said about four or five years ago, heroin was the big problem, then people started getting into one-pot “shake and bake” meth. Now, officers are seeing crystal meth as well as cocaine and heroin, and something new called liquid meth, which is more difficult to detect. “They’re bringing in big truckloads of the stuff,” the officer said.

The second officer talked about the steps of an investigation, and how some people get frustrated with how slow it sometimes seems. Officers act on tips as soon as possible.

“It’s a very complicated process with a lot of different steps. We ask for your patience. It doesn’t just happen at the drop of a hat,” he said. “We try to put the best case together we can and there’s a lot of different steps involved in that process.”

Judge Wehrkamp noted children whose parents talk about alcohol and drug abuse are 50 percent less likely to use drugs than kids who don’t have a parent who will talk about these issues.

“That’s a big takeaway,” he said. “Please talk to your children about drugs and alcohol.” He also suggested talking to your grandchildren, nieces and nephews, or any young person you may mentor.

Wehrkamp also said one in four kids have abused or misused prescription drugs. He urged adults to think about what medications they may have in their home, and how easily they may be accessed.

The judge offered the following tips for parents:

• Listen to your kids and what they are saying. Talk to them about drugs and alcohol before their peers begin influencing them.

• Ask kids open-ended questions.

• Be involved in their lives.

• Make sure your kids understand your expectations of them.

• Let them know about any family history of additions, such as alcoholism.

Beckman has been a judge for 12 years, eight in Common Pleas Court and four in County Court. She said a significant amount of her time is handling drug cases or drug-related cases. “Usually, there’s an addiction behind that theft,” she explained.

Beckman created the Drug Court program after attending an Ohio Judicial Symposium on Opiate Addiction in 2014. Drug Court is a condition of probation. The four-phase program includes regular drug testing, alcohol and drug treatment and regular meetings.

So far, about half of those in Drug Court have returned to their old life. “That’s the struggle, and continues to be the struggle,” she said. However, about half are doing well and are recovering.

“Drug Court is a step in the right direction,” Beckman believes.

An unintended consequence of Drug Court is that the participants have educated her. “I’ve learned from them,” Beckman said, and shared some of her observations with the audience:

• Stopping drugs is hard. It’s not on the weekend for fun. It becomes who they are. They never do anything sober.

• As a family member, neighbor or friend, you can’t want sobriety for them; they have to want it for themselves.

• They have to hit rock bottom before they want to change. Rock bottom is different for everyone, usually involving jail or prison, or by having loved ones stopping enabling them.

• Every rock bottom is different.

• Jail is an important piece of recovery. They have to feel there’s no place else to go.

Two current Drug Court participants, Scott and Jessica, shared their experiences with drugs, the justice system and Drug Court.

Scott, a homecoming king in high school, got addicted to painkillers after injuring his shoulder in football. He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from OSU, but overdosed “at least” a dozen times and ended up in prison.

“The main message I want you to take away today is addiction doesn’t discriminate,” he told the audience. “It doesn’t care what you look like, where you come from, what color you are. I’m living proof of that.”

Jessica started drinking and smoking marijuana at 16, and eventually started doing meth and became a meth cook. “I lied to my family ... I stole, I cheated, I had no grief, I had no guilt and I had no shame. I did what I had to do to feed myself and my addiction. Period. Nobody else mattered,” she said. “I’m learning to be a sober, social person. It’s hard.”

She loves Drug Court. “It holds me accountable for all my actions.” She praised Judge Beckman for her work and support.

Schweinsberg discussed his work with youth in classrooms. He said nationwide, six of seven under 18 use medications incorrectly.

Drugs are a bigger problem in Ohio than elsewhere, Schweinsberg believes. “It’s here and it’s bad. I encourage all of you to talk, talk, talk. Find out what [your kids] know. Let them teach you.”

He added that medicine cabinets are not a safe place to store prescriptions and even over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol. It’s easy for anyone in the house to get in and look for drugs.

“We’re role models for kids,” Schweinsberg said. “We have to learn to be responsible. If we aren’t, they won’t learn.”

To view the video of the forum, click here.