Wallowa County does have a drug problem.

"I'd like the community to understand that we do have a rampant drug problem here, and if we don't do something about it, it will get worse.

"Forty-three percent of high school juniors at one school in Wallowa County have smoked marijuana in the past 30 days.

"I am absolutely amazed at the drug problem in our high school.

"There are 33 persons on parole in Wallowa County at this time. Of that total 28 or 29 were arrested either on drug charges or for committing crimes in order to get money for drugs."

These comments were made, respectively, by Wallowa County Sheriff Fred Steen, Education Service District employee Jeff Gaertner, Joseph High School's acting assistant principal Sherry Kilgore, Mandy Decker of the Wallowa County Juvenile Department and Union/Wallowa County Parole and Probation officer Cedric Shanks last Tuesday night during a Drug Summit promoted by the Wallowa County Sheriff's Office and District Attorney Dan Ousley.

Late in the meeting when Undersheriff Steve Rogers asked the audience of 55 people if anyone doubted that Wallowa County had a drug problem, no one raised their hand.

Decker said that of 88 drug analysis tests taken this year that 64 percent proved "dirty" with traces of marijuana. "In 1998 when we discovered one dirty urine analysis sample it was a big deal. Now when we discover one 'clean' UA sample it is a big deal," said Decker.

Joseph High School health teacher Larry Johnson said that a high percentage of his students have relayed to him that, if given the money, they could purchase marijuana and be back in class in one hour's time.

Though Steen on more than one occasion tried to steer the discussion to the adult problems in the community, much of the question-and-answer session which followed oral presentations from several community partners of the sheriff's office focused at the high school level.

"What can we as parents do to keep drugs out of the schools?" asked Vickie Wallace from the audience.

Enterprise Police Chief Wes Kilgore was a proponent of outlawing the use of backpacks in the schools and closing down campuses during the day. He mentioned a policy at Pendleton High School where students wishing to use the school parking lot sign a form permitting the search of their vehicle at any time.

"Talk to your kids (about drug issues) and talk to your kids' friends," said Decker. "Many kids want to talk."

Sherry Kilgore emphasized the need for the public to repeatedly make their concerns known to their respective school board members, to school administrators and to their friends.

Shanks, who turned in his own 17-year-old son to the police for marijuana five years ago, stressed that parents must hold their children accountable for their actions. He talked about consequences for the severity of the offense.

Though alcohol problems were noted, most of the two-hour summit focused on marijuana and methamphetamine.

Maggie Hunt from the Wallowa County Mental Health Department cautioned marijuana-smoking parents from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s that the potency of pot being smoked today is often much greater than it was in past years.

"This county probably has one or two methamphetamine labs in some form of operation at this time," said Steen. He said that drug enforcement work is "very expensive and time consuming. It sometimes takes six months to legally get all the information together for a search and seizure operation."

Gaertner works in the student assistance program at the three major schools in Wallowa County, grades six through 12. He adds that 72 percent of high school juniors at one school in the county have used alcohol in the past 30 days and that from a class of 23 sixth-graders in one grade school, five have already smoked marijuana.

Oregon State Police Trooper Seth Cooney said he was surprised at the problem in northeast Oregon. He said that his seventh-grade son had already been offered an opportunity to smoke marijuana.

Chief Kilgore encouraged citizens to write down license plate numbers of vehicles coming and going from suspected drug outlets and sharing that information with the police. "The more information you can give us the better the chances are that we can get a search warrant and take out the drug dealers in your neighborhood," said Kilgore.

Shanks said reprisals for turning drug dealers in are very rare.

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