Impressive array of community leaders address drug epidemic in San Angelo; similar meeting forthcoming in Midland
By Jimmy Patterson
SAN ANGELO — With a sense of urgency in his voice, Tom Green County Sheriff Joe Hunt told an impressive list of community leaders, chemical dependency experts and child advocacy representatives that the only to gain an advantage against the plague of drugs taking over is “to get God back in our lives.”
The gathering came about at the behest of San Angelo Bishop Michael Pfeifer, who recently conducted a series of townhall type meetings in small towns in West Texas addressing what he has referred to as an “epidemic drug problem.”
The meeting featured religious and community leaders plus a wide array of legal representatives, including San Angelo Superintendent Dr. Carol Ann Bonds and 340th District Judge Jay Weatherby.
The crowd, numbering over 30, left with three important directions in which to head: educating parents and in many cases intervening in the parents’ own use, especially where methamphetamines are concerned; prevention, and the need to re-introduce God into the lives of those individuals grappling with addictions.
Stories were told of the extreme incidents found in Tom Green County: parents and grandparents smoking pot and doing other drugs with their grandchildren and children; a 12-year-old boy who is on a mixture of heroin and Tylenol, called “papers” or “cheese,” and Judge Weatherby’s experience over the last several months of having to remove “at least two newborn babies a week” from the hospital who were born with meth in their system.
“If we don’t change the hearts of the family, we may not make an impact with the kids,” said a spokesman with the San Angelo Police Department.
San Angelo Sheriff Joe Hunt said punishment and incarceration have not proved to be the answer.
“I would say 90 percent or better of our crime problem is somehow related to drugs,” Hunt said. “We are reacting to the drug problem but still it’s getting worse. We can increase our jails, and we have, from 220 to 450 beds in our county jail. I dare say if we put another 220 beds in there I can fill them up quickly. But until God gets back in our lives — into these people’s lives — and until the family gets back … from my experience it’s not working it’s just worse. We can throw all the dollars we want at this but until we can get the family back to God, we will not make a difference.”
Many agreed the meeting seemed to serve as a catalyst for change in the San Angelo community. In fact, a second group will meet in May and the full committee will return with a plan of action on June 11.
A similar starting meeting of community leaders is planned for Midland on May 17.
“I feel very confident that we can do something about this because of all the people here,” Pfeifer said. “I’d like us to take away two thoughts: hope, and we will turn this around with God’s help, and we can do it. Not just because of us, but because of a higher power. We can’t lose the opportunity because thousands of young people’s lives depend on the efforts we can make.”