Members of the City of St. Marys Police Department conducted a drug awareness program Thursday evening at the Sacred Heart Activity Center, where attendees learned about area drug trends and how they have changed throughout the years.
Police Chief Todd Caltagarone, along with Patrolmen Gregg McManus; Mike Shaffer, K9 officer; and Anthony Pistner, all members of the drug taskforce team encompassing Elk, Cameron and Forest counties, interacted with the audience throughout the presentation and answered their questions and concerns.
They emphasized the current epidemic of prescription medications in the area.
"Everything else has dropped off, even alcohol, among kids," Shaffer said. "Marijuana still remains a big problem, especially since the potency has gotten stronger."
Marijuana is typically one of the first drugs people try. Some move on to other drugs, especially if they have an addictive personality.
Another highly used drug in the area is Ecstasy.
McManus noted that drugs trends in St. Marys are consistent with what's happening throughout the U.S.; however, the area is fortunate to have seen limited use of methamphetamines, commonly referred to as "meth."
"Fortunately we are not seeing it (meth) like they are down south," Pistner said, stating meth use is spreading from the south and heading east.
"We haven't had a lot yet. It doesn't mean it's not coming, Just so far it hasn't," Shaffer added.
The majority of meth users in the area are in their young 20s.
According to McManus, a majority of the area's drugs are trafficked in from Pittsburgh and Ohio. He stated that during training exercises, law enforcement officers from the southern U.S. have been educating area law enforcement on what to look for and how to deal with those using meth, often referred to as "tweekers."
McMannis explained that tweekers often stay up for days without any sleep, which results with them being in a constant paranoid state.
"Some of the stories the people down south were telling us are scary," he said. "They're very paranoid and it's all about the drug. They think everybody's out to get them. Hopefully it's something we won't ever have to deal with."
"We've got to do our best to keep it away," Shaffer noted.
Pistner added that they have spoken with long-time heroin users who have gone out west and come back, and told area police they hope meth never comes here because they have dealt with the tweekers and it is a bad situation.
It was also stated that most people who abuse meth suffer from poor hygiene, scabs and sores on their arms at injection sites and "meth mouth," where they have many decayed or missing teeth and bad breath.
There are three popular methods of producing meth, with the "one-pot" process being the quickest and easiest, although producing smaller amounts than other methods. The officers explained that a notice was recently sent to forest service employees and volunteers warning them of "one-pot" cookers which have been found on national forest lands and rural areas. Items to look out for are water bottles and liter soda bottles used in the process known as "shake and bake", a method of producing meth inside a single container.
These bottles are highly toxic and combustible because they contain hydrochloric acid and other toxins. An ammonia scent signifies the bottle is in an extremely dangerous stage. A white powder can be found inside the bottles, which often have a hose coming out the top. Other harmful objects, such as used syringes and chemicals, may also be found in the vicinity.
If any of these bottles are discovered, people should not touch them or attempt to transport them, but rather contact local law enforcement.
"I think that was the best thing the government came out with was putting some controls on those items, such as pseudoephedredine (a nasal decongestant and a common ingredient used in making meth). That put a big stop to it," McManus said.
According to Caltagarone, LSD is starting to make a comeback in some circles.
Officers also debunked many myths regarding drug abusers attempting to pass drug tests, specifically urine tests. Caltagarone explained that hair follicles can provide a history of a person's drug use. New tests can determine recent drug use, as well as what was used several months ago.
"It's a lifelong rehabilitation," McManus explained. "Along with the drug use comes the crime. They're stealing from relatives and friends, wherever they can get it, in order to get their high."
The officers said that if parents were to contact the police regarding their child using drugs, law enforcement can provide information to various agencies who can assist in finding behavioral, counseling, or medical intervention rehabilitation and treatment programs.
Shaffer said treatment may require multiple efforts and/or a combination of programs, as each person is different.
"The fundamental thing as a parent is to be consistent in your rules, that (drug use) is not acceptable in your house," Caltagarone said. "Maintain that position in a loving way."