Friday, February 8, 2008

Demand makes war on drugs daunting

Sgt. J. Centeno spends his days trying to get drug dealers off local streets, but he knows that act alone won’t stop the deadly cycle of addiction that will bring a new one in the next day.

That’s a daunting realization for the 16-year West Virginia State Police officer and commander of the Southern Regional Drug and Violent Crime Task Force.

“We are realizing something really sad about the war on drugs,” he told Princeton Rotarians Friday. “It seems almost like drugs can take a permanent stand ... It seems like we take five steps forward and six steps back.”

The cycle is as simple as the basic rules of supply and demand. As long as there are people in the area willing to pay for drugs, Centeno said there will be people willing to break the law and risk their lives to supply them. That’s why, in his estimation, the only way to win the war on drugs is to take many big steps forward before addiction has a chance to take hold.

Beating drugs and their dealers must start with prevention, and the younger efforts start, the better, Centeno said.

“We can always put a lot of drug dealers in jail and spend all of your tax money to keep them in jails,” he said, but preventing the next generation of drug users would be the best way to put drug dealers out of business.

And, there are plenty of those businesses alive and well in the region.

The six undercover officers in the drug task force investigate drug-related crime in Mercer, McDowell and Wyoming counties. In January alone, those six officers opened 50 separate investigations.

“We’re realizing we’re very good at reacting, but very few times do we see prevention,” he said.

Prevention tactics to keep kids off drugs should start early, he recommended, particularly in light of the disturbing results of Pride Surveys conducted in West Virginia 2003-05. Designed to measure students’ perceptions and activities regarding tobacco, alcohol and other illegal drugs, the studies involved students in middle and high school grades.

In 2002, 33.2 percent of West Virginia eighth-graders and 41.9 percent of 11th-graders surveyed reported using cigarettes within the last year. Approximately 42.8 percent of eighth-graders and 61 percent of high school juniors reported consuming alcohol within the year.

Those percentages dropped slightly in the 2004 survey, but not enough to create any comfort, according to Centeno, who said tobacco and alcohol use pave the way for more explicit drug use as teens age.

In 2004, 33.4 percent of West Virginia juniors surveyed reported using marijuana in the last year, while 8.4 percent reportedly used cocaine.

“This is the bad news,” Centeno said.

Part of the good news appeared to indicate students who were busy with school, family, church and community obligations weren’t the ones doing drugs. It was the juveniles at home or a friend’s house on the weekends who reported consuming the most.

“When they have things to do, when they have a lot of responsibilities, they don’t use a lot of alcohol or tobacco,” he said.

Solutions lie, Centeno said, in finding and providing safe, productive activities among positive peer groups and breaking the cycle of young generations simply falling into drug addiction because it’s a cycle they can’t escape.

“Drug users are like water. They seek the path of least resistance,” he said.

If communities, schools, families, churches and other positive organizations provide resistance, he predicted the war on drugs would be a fairer fight.

“We are in trouble with drugs. We’re fighting as hard as we can and as fast as we can,” he said.

In addition to community activities, Centeno said vigilant, educated citizens are essential to stopping dangerous drug patterns.

To report suspected drug activity in your community or learn more about the drug task force, call 327-DRUGS.

For more information on the Pride Surveys, visit

— Contact Tammie Toler at

source: Bluefield Daily Telegraph

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