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FROM THE EDITOR: When Pahrump’s drug problem makes front page news

Pahrump has a drug problem.

In fact, the entire country, if not the whole world, has a drug problem.

I illustrated as much a few issues ago when I advocated for legalizing all illegal drugs.

I think the drug war has been a massive failure, and not just a policy one. It’s a political, spiritual, moral, financial debacle of biblical proportions. It has ripped families apart, destroyed communities, led to massive bloodshed, helped criminal cartels and street gangs thrive, corrupted more than a few cops and judges, not to mention it has been a total waste of taxpayer money. For the effort, drugs are cheaper, stronger and more available today than ever.

This country and this community need to get a grip. Politicians are not in the business of raising our children. Courts and cops should not be in the business of keeping our children clean. And yet our courts and our jails are filled to overflowing with drug users.

The education system doesn’t seem to be helping much either, despite the billions and billions spent on public education in this country.

Prisons and jails, despite their massive cost to taxpayers, don’t seem to be rehabilitating drug users so much as they seem to be warehousing them, perhaps even exposing many first-timers to more serious criminal training for when they get out, the stigma of a drug conviction preventing them from getting a decent job anyway.

Last week the PVT ran a big story about the impact of drugs and drug treatment on this community. It was a heartfelt attempt to bring awareness to a big problem. In my opinion, Pahrump is a poor community caught in the trap of spending too much precious money on arresting, jailing and prosecuting drug users. And there is no end in sight, neither are there clear solutions.

To illustrate our story we used about 70 mugshots from local arrests, photos that have run in this paper. But, our intent, my intent, was not to tar and feather people caught in this drug war wasteland. We didn’t publish any names. A discussion was had in blacking out the faces or at least the eyes. In hindsight, I would have preferred to blur the pictures altogether.

There was one mug of a kid who had a DUI arrest, not even for drugs. He complained. We said we were sorry. Another person, a young mother named Amanda, complained that she’s been sober 10 months, works hard to put food on her table for her two little girls and didn’t appreciate the unwanted attention. Besides, the guy she was arrested with is in prison and his mugshot wasn’t even used.

I agree. It was kind of unfair. Almost as unfair as footing the bill for the 34 days Amanda spent in jail after police kicked in her home’s front door and found several young children inside, a half-ounce of meth in the garage. Or paying for the legal bills incurred by the courts. The light bills at the probation office. Et cetera.

I want to share Amanda’s story real quick. Her’s is not unlike a lot of people who flow in and out of the legal system over drugs.

Amanda is 25. She has two kids and is a single mother. She was exposed to drug use at an early age at home. She was even a foster child for a while. Despite this, she was able to graduate from high school one year early. She had plans to attend college, but children seem to have come first. Today, her probation for a felony use of a controlled substance charge is preventing her from going.

She says she was a recreational drug user. The man who was actually selling the stuff and who is in prison now had it at her house without her knowledge, or so she says, when the police showed up. She was charged with a slew of felonies, including child endangerment and drug trafficking. She eventually took a plea deal, three years probation, kept her kids, and voluntarily enrolled in a Westcare program. She graduated in October. She says her arrest cost her her car, her housing, her kids for a while and her freedom.

She says she’s clean today because, “I’d rather keep my kids (ages 6 and 4) than go back to jail.”

About the Pahrump drug scene, “I don’t hang out with anybody any more. Everybody and their mother uses drugs here.”

There are probably a few hundred young people just like Amanda in this town right now, in varying degrees of struggle. Some are about to be arrested, some are in jail now, some are awaiting trial, some are in Drug Court, some are on probation, some are clean and sober and proudly confirm they are recovering addicts, others are shooting heroin in the park for fun, stealing from their grandparents for a foil of meth, or a bag of weed, and so on and so on.

Like most of you, I have no idea what all this means, where it’s going, or what can be done.

This one Amanda may have saved herself. Maybe the arrest and the jail time and her innocent childrens’ tears saved her from becoming a hardcore drug addict someday. Maybe the status quo methodology — bust ‘em, break ‘em, treat ‘em, and release ‘em — sort of worked on this one.

But for all anyone knows, she is simply biding her time when prying eyes and piss tests won’t come between her and a good time. To me, she sounded more like a person caught not in the grip of deadly drug addiction so much as in the grips of a costly, extravagant drug war bureaucracy, stumbling around in the dark trying to fix an irreparable social problem.

I just hope she and other young people like her know one thing: We do care about them.

The drug raids in the middle of the night, tearing your crying kids from your grasp, force feeding you jail food and scolding you into submission in the courtroom is just our crinkled society’s latest way of showing it.

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