Have you ever felt like you've been fighting a losing battle?
After years of witnessing mostly a younger generation suffer and too many succumb to addiction due primarily to the combination of pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy greed fueled by some physicians' unjustifiable prescriptions, I have to now say thanks to those responsible for creating "zombies" throughout Logan County and beyond.
Statistics show that between 2006 and 2012 nearly 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills were distributed by companies throughout the United States, the majority of which were poured into mostly rural Appalachia, particularly eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia. To me, it could almost be declared as an extermination process, because that is what the undertaking achieved and continues to do so in a different way.
With just about every incorporated community in West Virginia now suing the pharmaceutical industry and pharmacies and most doctors playing different roles than in years past, over 200,000 lives have been reportedly lost across the country to the opioid epidemic since 1996 - too many of them in southern West Virginia. Unfortunately, West Virginia had the highest rate of opioid prescription overdose deaths in the nation. Would it not be good to know just how many have died in Logan, Mingo and Boone counties?
I have witnessed the heartbreak first hand in my position as one of three magistrates in Logan County. What I can say is that no family, nor any community, has been immune to the devastation that has been created. And I do mean created.
The tears that have been shed because of drug addiction in Logan County are only equal to the blood that has flowed since the very beginning of the area's coal mining and its consequent related accidents and deaths. Now, we are facing an even scarier phenomenon that, I believe, is a direct result of the near ending of the pill flowing - meth and heroin.
Between those two poisons, the Death Angel lurks daily in Logan County, while humans - most of whom once were intelligent loving children and grandchildren - now are rapidly becoming "zombielike."
Since there are no welcoming signs at the Logan-Boone County line that depicts the historical fact that Logan County was once the home of the Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield family and that his life-like memorial stands at a mostly ignored family cemetery in the same county; because there is no sign recognizing the fact that the Blair Mountain insurrection occurred in Logan County, or that the infamous sheriff, Don Chafin, who was a major player in that battle, lived in a home that still stands in the town of Logan, basically empty; or the fact that there is no recognition anywhere in Logan County for two former professional football greats from the Man area (Charlie Cowan and Lionel Taylor), perhaps we should simply erect a great billboard at the county line that simply says: "Welcome to Logan County, Home of the Walking Dead" and Landau Eugene Murphy.
I guarantee we will attract droves of curious tourists with that welcoming.
On my way to work recently, as I drove up the small hill at Mt. Gay, I was greeted by the site of a young lady who was unknowingly playing the part of one of the zombie characters of the popular "Walking Dead" TV show walking in the middle of the road. Her arms flopping in the air from one side to the other, she disappeared as I peered into my rear view mirror. What became of her, I just don't know.
What police officers, as well as families, are now encountering is that the meth epidemic is in full bloom in Logan County. Once perfectly fine individuals, mostly of the younger variety, are killing themselves with the poisons of meth and cut heroin.
Because of HIPPA laws, the public does not hear of the amount of overdose cases accounted for at our local hospital. Many are brought back through the use of Narcan, and for some it is not their first time being saved from overdose deaths. Other individuals, either at the hospital or elsewhere, are not as fortunate.
Meth and heroin have replaced the pills that once were so easily available. Therefore, the blame for it all goes right back to what started the problem over a decade ago when I called for rehab facilities in this region. In a recent on-line poll, I was surprised to see the answers. The question asked was "Who do you feel carries the most blame for the opioid crisis?" The choices were 1. DEA; 2. manufacturers; 3.distributors; 4. pharmacies; 5. doctors; and 6. users.
The number one and two answers were doctors and users.
Although I may not agree with the polling results, the fact remains that we're facing a major problem of such significance that our workforce is diminishing and our economy is suffering. These otherwise healthy individuals cannot hold a job and their mental capabilities are turning into clear mental health issues.
The sad part is that once they've ingested enough meth, they don't seem to ever come back to normalcy. Erratic behaviors escalate into these people literally speaking out of their heads, seeing things that don't exist, and in the meantime, communities, families and friends are being devastated.
In Boone County recently, police reported that wasp spray was being used as a replacement for meth. If you find that hard to believe, maybe you shouldn't. Just look at some of the ingredients of meth - acetone (found in paint thinner); anhydrous ammonia (found in fertilizer); hydrochloric acid (used to make plastic); toluene (used in brake fluid); lithium (highly explosive and found in batteries); sulfuric acid (found in drain cleaner); and several other ingredients that compose the vile substance.
The jail bill for Logan County continues to grow, despite all of the programs instituted to curb that bill and to help with the various addiction problems encountered daily. Home confinement, day report and drug court are utilized as often as deemed possible, yet the regional jail facility at Holden as of just a few days ago has 524 inmates incarcerated in a structure designed to hold 288.
The local regional jail serves Logan, Boone, Mingo and McDowell counties. For years, I have kept an eye on the criminal case count of Logan compared with other counties, some with three or more magistrates, and Boone and Lincoln with just two. The following is the most up-to-date statistics I have and they are based on state court system data from 2017. I can assure you that 2018 and so far in 2019, the numbers have increased, as I know that Logan has 100 more in jail now than at this same time last year.
Criminal cases handled in Logan County magistrate court totaled 5,159 in 2017, compared with 2,482 in Mingo, 2,361 in Boone, 3,516 in Lincoln and 1,161 in McDowell, which has three magistrates. Logan magistrates handled 2,966 motor vehicle citations and 191 DNR tickets. By comparison, Mingo had 1,630 traffic tickets and 101 DNR tickets; Boone totaled 1,151 traffic and 74 DNR tickets, while McDowell handled 407 traffic tickets and 40 DNR citations.
I could go on and on with county comparisons. For instance, Marion County, which has four magistrates, totaled just 2,644 criminal cases, but did deal with 1,224 tickets, although just 24 DNR citations.
Here's my point. The jail is overflowing; people are dying; families are falling apart; and society is suffering in general. Sadly, and perhaps even more importantly, children are agonizing as abuse and neglect cases in circuit courts are escalating, nearly all the result of illegal drugs, particularly meth.
Logan County's jail bill paid annually by the County Commission will probably be around one and a half million dollars by year's end. At some point, the financial well is going to go dry. What then? More zombies on the streets with needle marks and resulting sores all over their drug-infested bodies?
There is too much pain and suffering that cannot be endured forever.
Anybody caught making and distributing meth or distributing heroin or fentanyl should face the maximum penalty without mercy. Any individual from another state who chooses to prey upon our Mountain people should face the death penalty. We have enough problems in our own backyards and we simply don't need imported evils.
I never thought my logical mind would ever allow me to think this way, but something drastic must be done. Maybe those far more intelligent than me can find a solution.
Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.