Task Force takes different approach in fighting drug abuse problem

Listen to the interview with Phil Strom, Delta County Prosecutor

ESCANABA — Authorities are starting to see more cocaine and crystal meth being sold in Delta County. Delta County Prosecutor Phil Strom said as law enforcement cracks down on local meth labs, the use of crystal meth goes up.

“That’s troubling because that is a sign that it is coming from somewhere outside of the area, maybe somehow related to a bigger organized crime when we are talking about those more pure forms and designer drugs,” he said.

Strom said cocaine hasn’t been a big problem in the area until now. He believes it is becoming more prevalent as the drug gets more use in more urban areas like Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

“We know there are people that look at the Upper Peninsula as being a place where drugs go for a high street value because they are so hard to obtain in certain instances. So, where cocaine may sell for $20 for a one time personal use in a bigger city it might sell for $50 in the Upper Peninsula,” said Strom.

That was also true when heroin started moving into the U.P. Strom said they continue to monitor the drug problem in the county.

“We have good investigations going on right now to try and combat that but as soon as we take care of cocaine and crystal meth that may be coming into the area we know there will be something else to replace it,” Strom said.

 
FIGHTING DRUG ABUSE

It’s been one year since Escanaba Public Safety and the Delta County Task Force Against Substance Abuse announced the implementation of the Angel Program. Strom said progress is being made to help those with addictions rather than fight the community drug problem through incarceration.

“We’ve had multiple programs set up including the Angel Program at Escanaba Public Safety. Our drug court is up and operational taking in participants and trying to reduce recidivism. I think our community is aware of what is going with substance abuse and we are starting to take proactive efforts as opposed to reactive efforts to try to address the problem,” Strom said.

The Angel Program has since been copied by the Michigan State Police and is in the process of being implemented statewide.

The sobriety or drug court in Delta County is still in the beginning stages although Strom says progress is being made there as well.

“We’ve had a mixed level of progress from our participants which is expected. When we are dealing with this population it is high risk and high needs. We gauge positive progress in very small increments. For example, if someone has a week or a month of sobriety, for someone that has never been addicted that might seem like a small amount of progress but it is really a very good first step,” he said.

Those involved in working with the sobriety court are going for additional training in March.

 
CHANGING PUBLIC PERCEPTION

The Angel, sobriety court and community corrections programs supported by the Delta County Task Force Against Substance Abuse are intended to change the lives of those addicted to drugs and encourage them to become productive citizens in the community.

Strom said ending addiction is the only way to end community problems such as theft, assault and domestic violence.

“We cannot arrest our way out of this problem, that’s been something we’ve been hammering away at for the past year. We know that just putting someone in jail for 30, 60, 90 days or 12 months at a time does not change the behavior. Until we can wrap our head around that we are not going to be changing lives,” he said.

Strom says one of the barriers is public perception of those addicted to drugs. It is often negative especially when their drug addiction lands them in court. It can be seen in comments to news stories on social media of those sentenced to sobriety court.

Strom said he hopes, eventually, the public will be able to hear the success stories of those fighting drug additions.

“I think a component of that is getting people out there who have changed their lives and who may have an addiction as part of their history and get them to tell their story on how they overcame their addiction and left that life behind and how they are now a productive part of our community,” said Strom.

The goal, Strom said, is to show drug users in the community that there is hope and a better life through the various programs available to them to end their addiction.