Community needs to join cops in campaign to root out dopersHats off to Wallowa County Sheriff Fred Steen and all of the public officials involved in putting together the recent 'drug summit' which brought to light the extent of illegal drug use in Wallowa County.

This forum helped dispel one of the myths about small, rural communities - that they are less prone to drug problems than urban areas. That simply is not true, and it should now be clear to everyone that Wallowa County has a very serious drug problem.

If anyone doubts the seriousness of the drug problem, here are some sobering numbers presented by Jeff Gaertner, who has been hired by the Education Services District to counsel students in grades six through 12.

- 43 percent of high school juniors have smoked marijuana the last 30 days.

- 72 percent of high school juniors have used alcohol in the last 30 days.

Assistant juvenile director Mandy Decker says the same thing another way. She deals with youngsters who have been caught breaking the law.

"In 1998 if we had a dirty U/A (urine analysis) it was a big deal. Now if we have a clean U/A it is a big deal," Decker said of the trend in random drug testing she administers to youths under the watchful eye of at the Wallowa County Department of Youth Services.

Illegal drug use is a problem that has been festering beneath the surface of public awareness in Wallowa County for many years. In some respects it has been treated as an out of sight, out of mind kind of problem. That approach clearly isn't working, as all the evidence suggests that drug use in Wallowa County is rising.

Steen has correctly concluded that it is time to aggressively attack Wallowa County's drug problem by enlisting the assistance of the public. He has also correctly concluded that efforts to address the problem should not focus exclusively on kids. Adults are a big part - in fact some believe the root - of the problem.

Steen tried to steer discussion at the 'drug summit' toward the adult side of the equation but as is so often the case the discussion turned toward kids. So he has decided to have another summit next month focusing exclusively on how to root out dope dealers in Wallowa County's adult population.

In some ways, this is a more difficult task in a small community like Wallowa County because the drug culture is very tightly knit, which makes it difficult to successfully utilize informants or "narcs." Intimidation can be another factor in communities where everybody knows everybody.

That is why law enforcement needs the assistance of law-abiding, community-minded citizens to help put drug dealers out of business. We believe this segment of the community will appreciate Steen's commitment to this challenge and respond to his call for help. We hope that is the case, at least, because illegal drug use is not just Sheriff Steen's problem. It is a problem that affects the health, safety, and well being of every person in Wallowa County. R.S.

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