Forum tackles local drug problem

May 04, 1997


Staff Writer

HALFWAY - Drug crime is a reality in Washington County and will only grow worse without intense citizen cooperation, police and health officials told about 20 people Sunday evening.

Sheriff Charles F. Mades said some youthful criminals are tried as adults but added that many who remain in juvenile court are far more dangerous than their counterparts from a generation ago.

Mades said one or two deputies routinely watch over juvenile court; several years ago none had to.

"The juvenile court system in Maryland is not equipped to deal with the type of offender we see today," he said. "I'd say they're 10 years behind dealing with the violence of offenders today."


Mades made his comments as part of a panel discussion called "Drugs: Closer Than You Think," which was sponsored by the Virginia Avenue Baptist Church.

Mades said Washington County residents must also accept responsibility.

"We certainly have to fault the people who live in the area here if their character is weak enough that they're going to do drugs," he said.

Maryland State Police Trooper 1st Class Jeff Hewett, who serves on a regional drug task force, said residents must resist initial fear and call police when they suspect drug activity.

"There can't be a cop on every corner," he said.

While the drug problem has exacerbated enforcement efforts, it has also overwhelmed treatment attempts, a Washington County Health Department official said.

Barbara Koelle said alcohol was far and away the county's largest drug problem when she became a counselor in 1978. Today, alcohol remains No. 1, but Koelle said marijuana and cocaine are close. And the profile of the addicts has changed, she said.

"We have treated children as young as 10 with full-blown addiction problems," she said.

Several church members who attended the forum said they were concerned by what appeared to be a growing crisis.

"I think the problem that's scary for me is the repeat offenders," said Lorena Stearns. "It's like they don't really learn their lesson."

Andrew Humphreys, who helped organize the forum, said churches and other organizations should try to form groups to attack the problem.

"People tend to get involved more when they are part of a group getting involved," said Humphreys, who is also a Washington County school board member.

The Rev. Richard Gross, the church's pastor, said many already realize that drugs are no longer a scourge exclusive to big cities.

"I think it showed us that the drug problem is in our back yard," he said.

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