A DOSE OF REALITY
H, smack, junk, flippin’, nodding, slamming, slinging – all terms the Drug Enforcement Administration agents, police and state police know all too well.
“Does every parent of every household in Lycoming County?”
That was the question asked Monday night by an ex-junkie and present-day crime fighter, the Rev. Ronald S. James, 64, executive director of the Williamsport-Lycoming Crime Commission, 1624 Memorial Ave.
James and Jeff Reeder, president of the Williamsport Citizens Corps Council, shared startlingly localized and frightening real information and statistics about the ease at which illegal drug use, especially heroin, is spreading, and the fallout seen in the rash of burglaries, shootings and violence.
But it was James’ personal testimonial that drew rave responses from those gathered at the Boot Camp of the Mind seminar inside the William Sechler Community Room of City Hall.
James showed scars where needles once had penetrated his veins in his arms and neck for more than two decades. He cried at one point sharing his heartache about what he sees coming down the road should apathy take precedence over action.
“If you people don’t put your feet down, you’re going to be seeing a lot of feet up,” he said.
James acknowledged he’s been rebuffed from sharing his story and experience about the deadly consequences of using or dealing dope, because, he said, of the attitude at school districts. He said that, in his experience, school administrators would rather hear from law enforcement officials than a recovering addict.
“If you don’t know what the language is, what the effect of this beast is, how are you going to stop it?” he asked in the filled community room one floor above where police are headquartered and deal every day with the fallout that narcotic use is having in Lycoming County.
“The Lycoming County Coroner Charles E. Kiessling Jr. and Sheriff Mark Lusk said there have been more overdose deaths than vehicular homicides this year,” Reeder said.
County Commissioner Tony Mussare asked James to put the heroin scourge on a scale of one to five.
“We’re at a three,” James said, also confirming a reporter’s question about the link to a recent rash of armed robberies at convenience stores, including one Sunday afternoon in the city, a Saturday hold-up in Hughesville and one Thursday in the city. Police suspect the two city robberies likely were committed by the same man, but no arrests have been made in any of the cases.
“We know that 80 percent of the county prison population is linked to usage of illegal drugs,” Reeder said.
So many smaller places are starting to experience it, such as South Williamsport, DuBoistown, Old Lycoming Township and Jersey Shore, James said.
“They are banging,” he said, a street slang for using.
James said the heroin sold today is about 85 percent pure. For the novice user, addiction may be certain but death also may be around the corner.
James said the pattern in Williamsport and the county is the older male or female user, adults, and it traveling down the age scale to younger adults and teens.
He noted the establishment of methadone clinics, which provide addicts with a less potent narcotic that takes the edge off for users, is likely to open the doorway for heroin dealers who are aware of the users’ need to “feed their need.”
“We call it the monkey,” he said, again using the street lingo. “Every parent of every child should be aware.”
Knowledge and education is the key, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which indicates the chances are 40 percent less likely a child will use any form of illegal drug if they are made aware of the dangerous consequences.
Nearly half of the users of heroin start with prescription opiates, such as oxycodone. Those who sniff or snort heroin, which is sold at $8 a bag locally, eventually need to feed a $200 to $300 per day habit. They feel the peak effect in 10 minutes, if snorted, but once it is injected the high begins in less than 10 seconds.
The injectable use of the drug leads to diseases, infection, deterioration of the body and mind and a constant need to find enough money to support the habit.
James said the drug is so rotten he supports legislation that would require a mandatory five-year sentence for anyone having a single bag of the product.
“I’m a minister now but I can still talk that ying yang,” he said.
Users need drug rehabilitation, detoxification, but the places for that are quickly filling up, he said. “They’re flooded,” he said.
The next phase and only way to stop it by getting the community behind the effort, by unifying and educating the youth in schools, and listening to those who’ve been in the trenches, on their knees and by God’s grace have escaped the beast, he said.