The opioid and crisis of severe drug use reaches far and wide, and can make its way into even the smallest, closest knit communities. The same deteriorating ailment goes for drugs that people don’t talk about.
Missouri, formerly regarded by the Drug Enforcement Agency as the meth lab capital of the U.S., is once again facing rising numbers in meth-related arrests, as well as a rise in usage and distribution.
The small town of Maryville, tucked in the northwestern part of the state in Nodaway County, is no exception to the rise of severe drug-related offences.
In Nodaway County, meth is a daunting storm law enforcement is trying to wait out, taking small steps each day to clean up the debris and manage outcomes in a way to prevent future storms from happening.
In Nodaway County alone, there have been 33 prosecuted methamphetamine-related charges in 2019 as of Nov. 6. The majority of cases prosecuted deal with possession and distribution of meth and related paraphernalia, while others dealt with the intent to use and or manufacture meth.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 7,500 people died in the U.S. by overdose of stimulants like meth in 2016 alone, and though Nodaway County has seen no such case this year, prosecutors in the county say the possibility for one is still there.
“While some people may say that drugs are nonviolent and therefore not important, I would turn around and say, in my opinion, drugs are the most important cases that we do,” Nodaway County Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rice said. “It is the bait that attracts all sorts of criminal behavior.”
According to the 2019 Nodaway County filing charge summary, the county has dealt with 625 total criminal cases this year as of Nov. 6, and of those, 363 have been prosecuted with the involvement of drugs.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol responded to 50 meth-lab-related cases in 2018, one falling in Holt County, which borders the southwest corner of Nodaway County and is a 44-minute drive from Maryville to the former lab site.
Analyzed DEA data of lab busts and seizures in Missouri predicts 27.6 meth labs per 100,000 residents in the state. At least two of those have been busted and seized in the past year by law enforcement in counties neighboring Nodaway, one incident from Holt County and one in Buchanan County.
Director of the Maryville Department Public Safety Keith Wood said local law enforcement, as well as state-wide enforcement have acknowledged the rising issue and are continuing to take steps toward getting those drugs out of the Maryville community.
“We continuously do a fair amount of street-level enforcement activities,” Wood said. “Most of those involve the attempt to purchase, through drug buys, a considerable amount of meth off of the streets here.”
Wood said Public Safety works frequently with the Nodaway County Sheriff’s Department and the Buchanan County Drug Strike Force in efforts to assist in the process of getting drugs out of the hands of addicts and abusers.
“We have a few officers that are pretty aggressive in the intelligence gathering process,” Wood said. “They are always conscious of their surroundings and paying attention to obvious and unobvious things that could point them towards possession of methamphetamines.”
But while local law enforcement seem to be cracking down on the top-tier issue of meth and severe drug use, the spread and influence of it only seems to grow larger statewide.
Though the number of meth labs in Missouri have reportedly gone down in recent years, the number of imported substances from other countries, namely Mexico and others farther south of the border, has seen a staggering spike.
Sergeant Shawn Collie said most of what the BCDSF sees now is imported.
“I would say 99.9% of what we’re seeing now is imported,” Collie told the Columbia Missourian in 2018.
However, even without as much local production in the area, meth is still one of the most prevalent drugs in northwest Missouri, with Nodaway County prosecution seeing just as many meth possession charges in 2019 as there have been marijuana possession charges.
Rice noted that per the 2019 filing charge summary, more than half of all crimes in the county also involve drug use, possession or intent to manufacture those controlled substances.
Rice, who has held the office of prosecuting attorney since 2011, said his experience in courts adds testimony to a definite positive correlation between drug offences and other crimes, at least in Nodaway County.
“If you get the drugs out of the county, then you can get bad people out of the county,” Rice said. “Hopefully, the many people we deal with will actually get the kind of help they need to quit.”
In his time reviewing cases and speaking to families and victims affected by addictive behavior, Rice has worked with the courts to find ways to get users back to a clean path. Rice said a program called “Drug Court” is one way the court is able to make a difference.
Drug Court is an alternative sentencing program administered by presiding judge of the fourth circuit Roger Prokes, which takes in drug users and provides addict resources to help alleviate addiction to drugs like meth, marijana and alcohol.
Drug users are put through an intensive supervision program with immediate sanctions if they violate a term of the program. There are multiple meetings per week, multiple treatment options and ways to keep offenders busy with drugs out of mind.
The Drug Court board of defense lawyers, judiciary officials, probation officers, people from the general public and Rice himself check in and follow up with offenders throughout the week to make sure they are staying clean.
If an offender is caught abusing during Drug Court, there is a sanction within a matter of days, which in comparison to a typical drug case disposal of four months, is more timely for offenders who are actively seeking help.
“What we found in 2017 is that 10% of those who use controlled substances will commit another drug offence,” Rice said. “However, those found guilty with use of controlled substances … over 42% of them will commit another crime. One way we look to combat this is admitting as many as we can to Drug Court.”
Rice, with the assistance of others in the court system, keep statistics on cases prosecuted, following individual users.
The court tracks people who commit drug offences, such as possession of methamphetamine or marijuana, driving while intoxicated and even domestic assault. The prosecution tracks the recidivism rate, or those who recommit those types of crimes.
Statistics updated as late as 2017 show that Drug Court has been a driving factor to recovery for addicts in Nodaway County.
The recidivism rate statistics the courts gathered compares individuals who are in or have graduated from the Drug Court program and those who were not in it.
Recidivism in offenders for driving while intoxicated and not attending Drug Court was 42% in 2017. The rate for those who participated in Drug Court was 9%.
Comparatively, the recidivism rate for those who graduated from the program sat at 0% for drug-related offenses in 2017.
Offenders of all crime who graduated from Drug Court saw a 3% recidivism rate.
“If we can get them to graduate from Drug Court, the recidivism rate is zero,” Rice said. “Now, it’s not going to be zero forever, but for now that’s at least a big show from 10% reoffending down to none.”
Rice said seeing recovery in users who graduate the Drug Court program is one aspect of his job that keeps him going.
“That, in the end, is the goal,” Rice said. “Our approach is hybrid, with tough love and supportive love, and I think you have to have both in order to best affect so much change from addict to recovery.
Rice said the most rewarding thing he sees in drug cases is when a graduate of the program decides to help another struggling addict who is working to overcome similar things they had to in the past.
“Drugs are a big issue, but these are people,” Rice said. “We want to see these addicts come to lead a happy, healthy and successful life.”
Local law enforcement recognizes that individuals battling drug use often struggle with the complexity of how to seek help. Maryville Public Safety, the Nodaway County courts and the Nodaway County Sheriff’s Department all said the best road to recovery is not being afraid to seek help with addictions, and that there are programs and people in the area willing to help those on that journey.