Over the past several years, all that has changed as a new leader sits atop that list - prescription drug abuse.
“Prescription drug abuse is on the rise,” said MEDWAY Drug Enforcement Agency Director David Smith.
And it’s everywhere, including here in Wayne County.
“We can buy prescription drugs every day,” said Smith, noting that the number of prosecutions for the possession or trafficking of prescription drugs in Wayne County doubled between 2009 and 2010.
As ever-tightening budgets forced municipal law enforcement agencies to eliminate their own prescription drug abuse efforts, the task of combating this growing problem has fallen to MEDWAY.
Using the same federal Byrne JAG grant program utilized to establish MEDWAY in 1974, Smith put together a Pharmaceutical Diversion Unit that works alongside doctors and pharmacists to fight prescription drug abuse.
But like the JAG grant that established the agency, which gradually phased out over a period of time, the grant for the pharmaceutical program is dwindling down.
Smith has been told to expect a 17-20 percent decrease in the amount of his 2012 JAG grant and another similar decrease for the following year. In two to three years, the JAG grant will likely disappear altogether.
With the JAG grant being the only source of funding for the Pharmaceutical Diversion Unit, the future of the prescription drug program MEDWAY has so carefully and successfully built is in jeopardy.
According to Smith, that’s why MEDWAY’s board decided to turn to the voters to request the .25 mil replacement levy that will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot as Issue 13.
“It’s been 27 years since this was voted on by the citizens of Wayne County and it was passed three to one in 1984 at a quarter of a mil. This is just a replacement,” said Smith.
“Some people are confused. They think this is something new. But this is a replacement of the current quarter mil levy. It’s not an increase in millage,” said Smith.
“Is it an increase in dollars? Sure it is, because your property is going to be revaluated based on the valuations of today’s market, not what it was in 1984,” said Smith, noting that the average homeowner can expect to pay an additional $3.85 a year if the levy passes.
“It’s going to cost you (a total of) $7.66 per year for the average homeowner to have MEDWAY 365 days a year,” said Smith.
According to Smith, the funds provided by the levy will allow him to keep the prescription drug program intact and restore his staffing levels to where they were at the beginning of the year when cuts to his 2011 JAG grant forced him to cut staff.
For Wayne County Sheriff Tom Maurer and Wooster Police Chief Matt Fisher, MEDWAY’s prescription drug abuse program fills a critical void that neither has the resources to fill in these times of tight budgets.
“Today we have the resources to stop, investigate, release or arrest. We don’t have resources to back up and investigate, therefore, we have to use MEDWAY,” said Maurer adding, “we don’t have the ability, technology, equipment, manpower to do anything outside of the initial stop.”
“These prescription cases take weeks in developing leads and following up with pharmacies. We just don’t have the manpower to do that,” said Fisher.
“When we’re running shift minimums every day you just don’t have people you can devote to that. Without them doing that those cases go unchecked. It’s free reign,” added Fisher.
“We are very fortunate because a lot of the counties do not have this,” said Maurer of the prescription drug program adding “the collaboration that we’ve built with the nurses, doctors and hospitals to address this problem is phenomenal.”
For more information on the renewal levy request, check out MEDWAY’s Facebook page.
Published: October 25, 2011