Cops, users say crack's impact is devastating

April 19, 2000|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Police officers and recovering addicts Tuesday used a drug abuse forum to drive home the devastating impact crack cocaine has had on Washington County.

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Hagerstown City Police Chief Arthur R. Smith, who as a district commander with the Baltimore Police Department witnessed the devastation drugs can cause, told business leaders at the Four Points Hotel that crack is addictive the very first time someone tries it.

"With crack cocaine, there is no such thing as experimenting with drugs," Smith said. "If you can think of 10 things you would never do, by the time you've done crack cocaine, you can probably check off all 10."

Two recovering drug addicts backed that up.

One woman, who did not want to be identified, said she had a successful career at International Business Machines in Gaithersburg, Md., when one hit of crack in 1987 ruined her life.


She had had a bad day and her brother turned her on to the drug, she said.

The woman said she spent $1,000 on crack in one night.

She said she sank into a life of prostitution, theft and humiliation to feed her habit.

"I wanted to kill myself and I couldn't. I wanted to live 1 percent more than I wanted to die," she said.

Another recovering addict said she moved from alcohol to marijuana to harder drugs. She dropped out of school and turned to prostitution and other crimes.

"I did everything I could do to get the drug of my choice," she said.

The woman said she could not hold down a job and could not be helped by any of the programs that tried to force her to give up her addiction.

"I had to make the decision for myself," she said.

Several of the speakers at Tuesday's seminar said reaching people like those two women - the users - is the key to licking the drug problem.

"We're approaching the sale of crack cocaine as we would any other business," Smith said.

Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III said drugs have taken an extraordinary toll on the county.

He said the county ranks 10th in population among the state's jurisdictions, but sixth in criminal filings.

Wright said 20 percent of those cases are directly related to drugs and many of the rest are influenced by them.

Urging companies to take a greater role in identifying employees who use drugs, Wright said the problem will only get worse. He predicted that it soon would be necessary to add a fifth judge to the Washington County Circuit bench.

"We're going to be here in 2005 doing the same thing unless the emphasis shifts to the buyer, to the consumer," he said.

Explaining why it is so difficult to snuff out the drug trade in Hagerstown, Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Dave Miller gave a quick lesson in economics.

Miller said police recently searched a knapsack of a 21-year-old man who was serving a home-detention sentence and found $86,000 in drug money.

"It is, very simply, the money," he said.

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