Help keep Carson City off drugs

Does Carson City have a drug problem? That's like asking whether the Pope is Polish. And the answer to both questions is: You bet!

In an effort to learn more about the extent of Carson City's drug problem, I paid a visit to Sheriff Ken Furlong early this month. We were joined by Undersheriff Steve Albertsen and Lt. Scott Jackson of the Tri-Net Anti-Narcotics Task Force in a wide-ranging, 90-minute discussion.

At the outset I should note that I spent more than 20 years on the front lines of the federal government's War on Drugs in countries like Colombia, Mexico and Peru, and I deal with drug cases as an English/Spanish interpreter in Carson Country courtrooms. So you can call me a lifelong anti-drug crusader, and I won't mind at all.

Sheriff Furlong was open and candid about the devastating effects of drugs on Carson City families. "If you know anybody in this town, you know someone who's using (drugs)," he declared. "Drugs are affecting families all over town." He added that we must go beyond drug arrest statistics in order to understand the extent of the problem because many other crimes such as burglaries, robberies and domestic violence - and even white-collar crimes - frequently turn out to be drug-related.

"The public has no idea how serious this problem is," Furlong continued. "It affects everyone from teenagers to seniors. Drug arrests were up more than 50 percent in Carson City last month."

Lt. Jackson stated that drug arrests in the Tri-Net area - Carson City plus Douglas, Lyon and Storey counties - increased by 25 percent to 125 in fiscal 2003, which ended last July. Unfortunately, Hispanics accounted for 40 percent to 50 percent of those arrests. I say "unfortunately" because these statistics reflect badly on the great majority of Hispanics in our area, who are honest and hard-working.

Clearly, the local drug of choice is the dangerously addictive methamphetamine, which comes in three varieties: 1) "crank," 2) "crystal" and 3) "ice," which is the newest and most popular form. Crank is usually sold as a powder, while crystal meth and ice are progressively more concentrated in "rock" form. Ice is at least 80 percent pure compared to crank's 35 percent average purity.

According to Jackson, more than 80 percent of illicit drugs entering the western U.S. are shipped here by Mexican drug cartels and carried by human "mules" from Mexico and elsewhere south of the border. By the way, this is a main reason why current "open borders" proposals are a bad idea, since people and drug smuggling go hand-in-hand.

Jackson explained that because Mexico doesn't control precursor chemicals, most of the methamphetamine seized in the Tri-Net area is shipped in from Mexico. While crank sells for about $350 per ounce, ice's street value ranges from $900 to $1,200 per ounce. Obviously, these prices represent a tremendous temptation for illiterate and/or indigent immigrants who are already working at minimum-wage jobs in the U.S., or those who seek to enter the U.S. in search of work.

In Nevada, mere possession of a "trafficking amount" of drugs, 28 grams or more, is punishable by a prison term of 10 years to life unless a defendant provides "substantial assistance" (good intelligence information) to law enforcement authorities.

On the other hand, it appears that many of the Hispanics convicted of drug crimes belong to prison gangs.

The Jan. 15 issue of the Reno News & Review published a revealing investigative article by staff writer Joseph Allen asserting that approximately 650 of 1,500 Latino inmates in Nevada's prison system are "paisas," gang members who operate "an extensive and illicit economy" that includes drug smuggling.

For his part, Sheriff Furlong believes in a three-pronged approach to the drug problem: education, treatment and enforcement. Although primarily responsible for enforcement, he also recognizes the importance of drug prevention, education and treatment, which is why he recently hired Mary Wolkimir as the department's first juvenile substance abuse training coordinator.

Ms. Wolkimir, who operated a nonprofit drug prevention center in Washington, D.C., is charged with coordinating a local effort to identify effective drug, alcohol and violence prevention programs.

"Academics will never flourish unless our children have a safe and drug-free environment to learn in," she told the Appeal earlier this month. I couldn't agree more, and I wish her well.

A recent survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, directed by former Health and Welfare Secretary Joseph Califano Jr., found that more than 5 million children between the ages of 12 and 17 could purchase marijuana in an hour or less, and that children in schools with more than 1,200 students (like Carson High) were at a high risk for drug addiction.

And yet the drug legalizers, who suffered a resounding defeat in an effort to decriminalize marijuana in Nevada two years ago, are still pushing their insidious cause with misleading TV ads.

Towns throughout the West and Midwest are infested with methamphetamine use and abuse, according to the New York Times, which reported that about 70 people in the small town of Lovell, Wyoming (population: 2,264) have been convicted of buying or selling meth over the past two years.

"Methamphetamine use and crime are also overrunning rural counties in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, North Dakota and the Texas Panhandle," the Times added.

Let's join Sheriff Furlong and his law enforcement colleagues in an all-out campaign to keep Carson City and rural Nevada off this list of endangered counties.

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.


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