Public officials in county need to address drug issue

Messages that should disturb every county resident came out of the Sept. 10 Morrison County commissioners meeting. The Board was told by Sheriff Michel Wetzel that the use of illegal drugs is growing in the county and County Attorney Brian Middendorf said that felonies and gross misdemeanors in the county, most of them drug-related, increased 40 percent in one year.

We think it’s time for a drug summit. Every local government elected official in this county ought to be joining together now to find solutions that actually work.

Prevention ought to be the goal, and that requires several different approaches. One is deterrence. Wetzel is among those who advocate this approach. He wants to put offenders in prison for a sufficient period that it disrupts their normal behavior and their network of friends.

Advocates point to the drop in serious crime in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when a “get tough on crime” movement swept the country, taking the worst offenders off the street for longer periods.

A second approach is more intensive counseling for drug abusers. Morrison County Social Services has applied for a grant to fund a drug court, wherein offenders would be monitored weekly, and have the threat of jail hanging over their heads should they fall off the wagon. Advocates say drug courts save incarceration costs and save lives.

United States Attorney General Eric Holder seems to be in this camp. On Aug. 12, he sent a memo to U.S. district attorneys ordering less vigorous prosecution of some drug offenses involving mandatory minimum sentences. He doesn’t want prosecutors to charge the drug quantity necessary to trigger such a sentence if the offense does not involve violence, firearms or selling to minors; the offender is not a leader or supervisor of a criminal gang and has no significant ties to a large-scale drug operation; and does not have a significant criminal history.

Those who support this approach say that drug courts in other counties have been successful in helping individuals get drug free and put their lives back on track.

A third approach has to be teaching children how not to be tempted. This begins with families but also with schools. What can be done that isn’t already being done to give better parenting and mentoring to young people? How can we make drug dealers leave the area because of lack of business? How can we engage the public at large?

One thing for certain: Law enforcement and the county attorney get the call only after bad things have already happened. We need to get out in front of that. We need a comprehensive approach to counter this scourge before it gets any worse.