WHEELING - Candidates for elected office in Ohio County answered questions about local safety, homeland security and drug enforcement during a candidate forum Thursday night in Wheeling.
The event took place at the Ohio County Library and was organized by Wheeling resident Alicia Gross.
Candidates participating in the discussion were Sheriff Pat Butler, a Republican, and his challenger, former Ohio County Sheriff Thomas Burgoyne, a Democrat; Prosecutor Scott Smith, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Worthy Paul; and Patty Levenson, Republican candidate for county commissioner. State Sen. Orphy Klempa, D-Ohio, the Democrat candidate for county commissioner, could not attend because of a prior commitment.
Photo by Joselyn King
Sheriff Pat Butler, left, and Worthy Paul, candidate for prosecutor, take questions posed by the public during a candidate forum Thursday night in Wheeling.
Paul - who serves as an assistant prosecutor in Wetzel County - suggested more education in public schools about drug abuse could help curb the problem among youth.
"I had one case where there was a 15-year-old and 16-year-old brother and sister who both started opiates a year ago," he said. "That's unbelievable. It's a good family, and their family was shocked.
"We just generally have to start educating our children younger and younger about the dangers of drugs that are out there," Paul continued. "It does evolve into heroin. I've seen that happen with young mothers. I've seen them willing to give up their children, rather than give up drugs. It's very disturbing."
The whole state of West Virginia has a serious drug problem, Smith said.
"It used to be crystal meth in the south and crack cocaine in the north," he said. "But now we're seeing an epidemic of prescription drug abuse. More and more young people are getting addicted to prescription drugs, especially the opiates - drugs like Xanax, Oxycontin and Percocet. They're highly addictive. It's very destructive to their lives.
"In the end, many become addicted to heroin when they no longer can afford the more expensive prescription drugs. I think it's going to take a multi-faceted effort. Number one, it's going to take education throughout the school system that taking prescription drugs can lead to a life of misery."
Butler said the underlying problem with drugs in society is a lack of family interaction.
"Nobody sits down for dinner together anymore," he said. "Everybody's got a soccer game there, a baseball game here, a basketball game there. The fringe benefits of scholastic activity have taken the place of the family."
He noted he has gone into local schools to talk to fourth- and fifth-graders about prescription drug abuse because "there's a misnomer out there."
"They see these drugs in their mom and dad's and grandparents' cabinets, and they think it's legal," Butler said. "They think they came from a doctor, so they can't be bad."
Burgoyne spoke of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, program that was once administered by the Ohio County Sheriff's Department. It now falls under the jurisdiction of the Wheeling Police Department.
"The Wheeling department now runs the DARE program, they now have officers in schools - and the Ohio County Sheriff's Department has none," Burgoyne said. "I would like to make that change, but the Wheeling Police Department has done such a great job I don't think we'll ever get back into the schools again."
Levenson was asked how much of Ohio County's budget should be dedicated to drug prevention programs. She said she would need to study the issue more closely, adding that 25 percent of the county's budget presently goes toward crime prevention.
"I would assume a portion of that would come under law enforcement, and the judicial part as well," she said. "I would say I would like to see a lot of community support in the fact that instead of the money always coming through government, we need to look to churches and look at charitable institutions in order to come up with some progr ams in the community that could help in this arena.
"I think too often we look for government to solve all our problems, and that takes the responsibility off of the citizen," she added. "I would like to have more responsibility fall with us as family members and community leaders."