By David Hansen
Derrill Vest said he was horrified several years ago after he admitted three 8-year-old boys into rehab programs for meth abuse.
The boys got hooked after their teenage brothers thought it would be funny to see their younger siblings stoned, recalled Vest, director of the Delinquent Drug Court program in Utah County.
This is only one of hundreds of cases Vest has overseen in his 11 years of service in the Drug Court program, but it indicates a growing trend in higher numbers of younger abusers, he said.
To combat rising drug abuse rates in the county, local parents, students and officials are fighting abuse harder than ever, said Lt. Ned Jackson of the Utah County Major Crimes Task Force.
?Recently, we have seen increases in community prevention,? Jackson said.
These prevention organizations range from police department education programs to parent support groups. And they are on the rise as well, Jackson said.
Cindy King, founder of one parent support group in Salem, was like hundreds of other parents in the county who find out that their child is an addict.
?I found out that my son was involved with drugs and I didn?t know where to turn,? King said.
After supporting her son through rehab, King wanted others to have the help she didn?t have.
In September 2003, King sponsored the first meeting of an organization called Parents Against Narcotics In the Community.
When 20 people showed up to the first meeting, King was shocked. She said she didn?t expect that many people to come.
Now, the PANIC meetings have expanded into three communities and generally have attendances between 15 and 60 people, King said.
One trend King said she didn?t anticipate when she started her drug abuse awareness crusade was the amount of young people that would get involved.
?We?re getting a lot of high school kids to come,? she said.
Spanish Fork meetings often have up to 50 students and 15 parents in attendance.
Having that many adolescents involved has been great for the community, King said. But the low amount of parental involvement troubles King and others.
Though fewer parents may need the help, they all need the education, King said. Many parents are embarrassed to attend such a meeting and to admit that their family has a problem.
The PANIC group meets on the first and third Wednesday of every month and focuses on educating parents and students to identify signs of drug addiction and to know how to help their friends and children.
Most parents wouldn?t think that disappearing spoons or light bulbs, recurring trips to Salt Lake and abnormally high cell phone bills are indicators of drug addiction, but they are, King said.
Parents? naivety is one of the county?s biggest problems, Lt. Jackson said.
?When you say, ?heroin addict,? [parents] think of someone in a New York alley with a needle in their arm,? Jackson said.
Most of the adolescents the Major Crimes Task Force sees with drug problems are clean-cut and don?t fit drug abuser stereotypes.
Other parent and youth education programs in the county include Narc-anon, a sister group to Narcotics Anonymous, NOVA, an education program sponsored by the Orem Police Department, and many D.A.R.E. programs.
In conjunction with education and prevention programs, Utah County has one of the most successful Drug Court programs in the nation, said Richard Nance, director of the Utah County Division of Substance Abuse.
Getting addicts into the program is the most difficult part.
“Only seven percent of people in treatment admitted they had a problem and sought treatment on their own,? Nance said in a news release. ?The other 93 percent are ordered into treatment by the courts.”
Many parents don?t know what to do or where to turn because their children refuse to get treatment for drug addiction, Nance said.
“It seems that not a week goes by that I don?t receive a telephone call from a spouse or a parent of an adult child desperate to get that person into treatment,? Nance said. ?I have to tell them that if they won?t go voluntarily the best chance they have is to get them arrested. And that?s a very difficult thing for some family members to do.?
When addicts don?t go to rehab on their own accord, they often end up there through the Drug Court program.
Utah County has two different Drug Court systems, said John Day, Utah?s 4th District Court administrator. One focuses on adolescents and the other on adults.
In the Family Drug Court program, most clients are parents, said Lisa Perez, the program?s coordinator.
?If [parents] are not getting caught, they just continue to use,? she said.
Drug courts offer a four-phase program to help addicts rehabilitate. Though participants say it is difficult, it is showing fantastic results, Perez said.
Out of the 40 to 60 adults who go through the system each year, only five or six relapse, she said.