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Front Page » October 28, 2008 » Emery County News » Part IV: A look at substance abuse, awareness, treatment,...
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Part IV: A look at substance abuse, awareness, treatment, recovery and juvenile justice


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By PATSY STODDARD
Editor

Part four of the series on drugs in Emery County will focus on the juvenile justice system and where Emery County fits in the picture. Recently the State of Utah Judicial Council released a report card which outlined the Southeastern Utah District Seven in comparison with the rest of the state.

Judge Scott Johansen is the juvenile judge in the Seventh District. He too is worried about the epidemic of kids and pills. Eventually students who become involved in drug use will end up in the juvenile justice system.

Judge Johansen said it is a matter of education for both young people and their parents. Parents should always make sure that prescription drugs are locked up. He recently saw several young people enter the juvenile justice system because of their experimentation with prescription drugs. These young people were sentenced to serve time in detention as well as complete community service hours.

"These are serious situations and we need to get on top of things," said Judge Johansen. He also said he would go to the schools if invited and make presentations to students. Not to scare them, but just to inform them on what can happen to them if they choose to use pills.

Judge Johansen said the mind set about pill usage seems to have changed. The students see their parents with prescription drugs and it's not illegal to have them if they are prescribed to that person. So sometimes the kids get the idea that it's OK to have them. In a presentation at San Rafael Junior High about the dangers of methamphetamines one of the students told Judge Johansen, 'Well, why take meth when you can just take a pill. Statements like that scare the judge. It's terrifying to think these kids think these behaviors are OK. "As a society we are too dependent on medication. Utah has one of the highest prescription drug use and abuse rates in the nation. Some doctors over prescribe pain medication. Sometimes the same doctors' names show up over and over. Addiction is out of control," said Judge Johansen.

Judge Johansen said a juvenile will have to appear before the Judge for a variety of reasons. Some cases are with well known offenders and oftentimes it is the first visit for a young person. On drug charges the subject will have to have a drug and alcohol assessment from Four Corners Behavioral Health and they must comply with the recommendations from that assessment. An evaluation could come with a recommendation to put the young person in a residential treatment facility. Outpatient treatment could also be recommended depending on the severity of the addiction. The subject could also serve time in detention and do community service. In extreme events, the subject might be removed from the home and go into foster care. Some kids stay in the foster care system until they reach the age of 19. If they do go into foster care, then after 45 days an evaluation is completed to see if they can return home.

Most cases do not end in foster care. Usually for a first offense, the subject will spend a week in detention, pay a $50 fine and do 80 hours of community service. One other requirement which Judge Johansen thinks is very vital to keeping offenders from reoffending is the random drug testing. He would like to see this exercised to a greater degree in combating drug use in young people.

"We hit the minor stuff hard here in the county. Seventeen years ago when I became a judge, I was told not to get involved with truancy issues. But I ignored that warning and have taken truancy from school very seriously. Most of the offenses by juveniles in our county are light weight. We don't see serious offenses like robberies, sex offenses, burglaries; etc. We live in a relatively safe place. We hit the minor stuff hard and pay attention to drugs and truancy. We don't see a lot of gang activity either. I have a strict policy here, if a gang member wanna-be comes along we have them removed from the community.

In reviewing the report card from the state, Judge Johansen said in the Seventh District there were a relatively low number of referrals for felony offenses, infractions and traffic offenses. Seventh District had a lower rate of reoffense than the statewide rate. Twenty-six percent of youth reoffended in the Seventh District with a statewide rate of 31 percent. In Castle Dale, 21 percent of youth reoffended.

The percentage of positive drug tests in Seventh District was lower than the statewide rate. Statewide 17 percent of drug tests were positive and 7 percent in the Seventh District.

The Seventh District includes Castle Dale, Monticello, Moab and Price. Felonies are a real concern for Judge Johansen. He feels the number of felonies by juvenile offenders in the county is relatively low. In 2007 there were 18 felony referrals in Castle Dale. In Moab there were 11 referrals, Monticello had the lowest with nine referrals and Price had the largest number with 64 referrals in 2007.

Another comparison the state made was in delinquency referrals by gender. In the Seventh District the referrals for females was 31-34 percent and the statewide average of female referrals was 30 percent.

Juvenile offenses are placed into the following categories: felony, misdemeanor, contempt, status, infraction and traffic. The category which had the highest number of female offenders was the misdemeanor category with 25 females being referred in 2007.

The most common delinquency offense statewide is: first contempt; second alcohol; third truancy; fourth tobacco and fifth probation violation. In Emery County the offense ranked first is alcohol possession and consumption; second-possession of tobacco; third disorderly conduct-fighting; fourth contempt-non pecuniary which includes disobeying a court order, dirty UA, noncompletion of an assessment and the fifth highest category is habitual truancy.

In all locations of the Seventh District the majority of delinquency referrals to the court were for youth 15 years and older.

In Castle Dale the drug that was most common when random drug testing was done was marijuana.

Judge Johansen said there are areas he would like to see improved for the county. He did see some positive trends with the report card also. The number of reoffenders is less than the statewide average which is encouraging. Judge Johansen said most repeat offenders come early to the system and begin at 13-14 years of age. They often reoffend within the next month after their first offense.

One area Judge Johansen would like to see improvement is in the random drug testing. He would like to see a greater frequency for testing. Also he would like to see more alcohol testing and there is a new saliva test which can detect alcohol use even 72 hours after use.

"If parents suspect drug use in their children they can request a test. The child doesn't have to be in the juvenile court system. If the test comes back clean then it is free, but a dirty test will have to be paid by the juvenile. One of the problems we see is with parents who don't think their kid would ever do anything wrong. They blame everyone else. We need to take more accountability when it comes to our children.

"We receive a certain amount of funding from the state each year and each individual district can direct their funds into the areas where their county needs the most help," said Judge Johansen.

Judge Johansen would also like to have random drug testing for truants. "The two go hand in hand. It's amazing the number of truants who are going to be dirty. If they are skipping school they are unsupervised. Overall I think we are doing well. Our area compares very favorably to the rest of the state. Our recidivism is lower than the state and our serious crimes are low. We live in a safe area and that is born out by the numbers. We have a low rate of positive UAs and we need to be more aggressive there with drug testing. Illegal drugs make up a small percentage of the positive UAs; alcohol and marijuana are major problems. The hard stuff, meth isn't as bad as it used to be. Right now prescription drug abuse is the major problem. We are not winning at all when it comes to prescription drugs. The use is frightening. Awareness will be the first step in combating the problem," said Judge Johansen.

Editor's note:

Throughout this series we have tried to help Emery County become more aware of the problems that are out there and possible solutions for the prescription drug epidemic. One thought that has struck me with the most impact is how can we expect our youth to be responsible with prescription drugs when there are so many adults who are abusing them. Actions speak louder than words as we fight to keep our kids safe from these dangers in our community.

30 percent.

Juvenile offenses are placed into the following categories: felony, misdemeanor, contempt, status, infraction and traffic. The category which had the highest number of female offenders was the misdemeanor category with 25 females being referred in 2007.

The most common delinquency offense statewide is: first contempt; second alcohol; third truancy; fourth tobacco and fifth probation violation. In Emery County the offense ranked first is alcohol possession and consumption; second-possession of tobacco; third disorderly conduct-fighting; fourth contempt-non pecuniary which includes disobeying a court order, dirty UA, noncompletion of an assessment and the fifth highest category is habitual truancy.

In all locations of the Seventh District the majority of delinquency referrals to the court were for youth 15 years and older.

In Castle Dale the drug that was most common when random drug testing was done was marijuana.

Judge Johansen said there are areas he would like to see improved for the county. He did see some positive trends with the report card also. The number of reoffenders is less than the statewide average which is encouraging. Judge Johansen said most repeat offenders come early to the system and begin at 13-14 years of age. They often reoffend within the next month after their first offense.

One area Judge Johansen would like to see improvement is in the random drug testing. He would like to see a greater frequency for testing. Also he would like to see more alcohol testing and there is a new saliva test which can detect alcohol use even 72 hours after use.

"If parents suspect drug use in their children they can request a test. The child doesn't have to be in the juvenile court system. If the test comes back clean then it is free, but a dirty test will have to be paid by the juvenile. One of the problems we see is with parents who don't think their kid would ever do anything wrong. They blame everyone else. We need to take more accountability when it comes to our children.

"We receive a certain amount of funding from the state each year and each individual district can direct their funds into the areas where their county needs the most help," said Judge Johansen.

Judge Johansen would also like to have random drug testing for truants. "The two go hand in hand. It's amazing the number of truants who are going to be dirty. If they are skipping school they are unsupervised. Overall I think we are doing well. Our area compares very favorably to the rest of the state. Our recidivism is lower than the state and our serious crimes are low. We live in a safe area and that is born out by the numbers. We have a low rate of positive UAs and we need to be more aggressive there with drug testing. Illegal drugs make up a small percentage of the positive UAs; alcohol and marijuana are major problems. The hard stuff, meth isn't as bad as it used to be. Right now prescription drug abuse is the major problem. We are not winning at all when it comes to prescription drugs. The use is frightening. Awareness will be the first step in combating the problem," said Judge Johansen.

Editor's note:

Throughout this series we have tried to help Emery County become more aware of the problems that are out there and possible solutions for the prescription drug epidemic. One thought that has struck me with the most impact is how can we expect our youth to be responsible with prescription drugs when there are so many adults who are abusing them. Actions speak louder than words as we fight to keep our kids safe from these dangers in our community.

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