Attendees gain knowledge of drug abuse during Operation Street Smart

Lt. Shawn Bain and Sgt. Michael N. Powell of the Franklin County Sheriff's Office Special Investigations Unit served as the keynote speakers during the Operation Street Smart adult drug program Thursday evening at the Beaver Local Auditorium, hosted by the St. Clair Township Police Department. Bain and Powell discussed facts and figures on drugs as well as items drug abusers have used to stash such suspected controlled substances. Behind Bain and Powell is a table of hundreds of household items which have been used to hide the drugs. (Photo by Steve Rappach)

CALCUTTA — As the drug epidemic sweeps throughout the country, many local residents took time to find out the facts of drug abuse and what can be done to prevent the spread of the abuse.

Close to a couple hundred residents were on hand at the Beaver Local K-12 campus Thursday evening to listen to and view the facts and figures of drug abuse during the Operation Street Smart adult seminar, hosted by the St. Clair Township Police Department.

Operation Street Smart was started by the Franklin County Sheriff’s office in the summer of 2002, and is a collaborative effort between the Special Investigations Unit (SIU)–the Sheriff’s office’s undercover narcotics branch, and D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education). The mission of the initiative is to provide the latest and up-to-date narcotics information on trends, terminology, paraphernalia and physiological effects to people who work with today’s youth.

Det. Sgt. Brian McKenzie spoke about the program, and wanted to bring the program to the community for residents to experience first hand what could lead to problems down the road.

“We wanted to bring them in because not everybody knows this stuff, and they need to be educated to see that they may have a problem that they don’t know anything about,” McKenzie said. “If they observe a little more, maybe they can pick out things that are leading to a bigger issue.”

Two of the members of the SIU–Lt. Shawn Bain and Sgt. Michael N. Powell– spoke to the audience inside the auditorium about the various types of drugs as well as statistics about them.

One major topic both Bain and Powell addressed included how suspects and drug abusers conceal their drugs after police have made contact. Behind Bain and Powell sat a table with hundreds of everyday household items to which the narcotics, as well as alcohol, can be concealed. Those items included cell phones, lipstick canisters, permanent markers, oil cans (like WD-40), umbrellas, compact disc cases, blue plastic ice packs, eye droppers, and even peanut butter jars just to name a few.

“If you set your mind to it, you can make anything anything,” McKenzie said. “What they have on their tables, we’ve dealt with 90 percent of them in the township. We’ve dealt with the glass pipes. We’ve dealt with the hidden compartments in peanut butter jars, the hidden compartments in Stove Top stuffing jars. People are very creative and they want to conceal them in places you don’t normally think to look, and that’s where a drug dog is invaluable in situations like that.”

After displaying the household items, Bain and Powell then passed it off to the audience, who were able to have a hands-on experience with the items discussed.

McKenzie said although drug abuse has become prominent and has increased in the township and the county as of late, drug abuse in the area as a whole has been an ongoing problem for several years.

“It’s nothing new. It didn’t just happen. It’s been going on for five or 10 years. We’ve seen a spike in it right now,” McKenzie said.

“A lot of the spike you’re seeing right now, we’ve always had overdoses for five or 10 years, but the frequency’s a little more. There’s more awareness now, and I’m going to directly relate that to the picture. A lot of people are generating a conversation now.”

The program provides several seminars throughout the state each year and has provided presentations to several school districts, churches, hospitals and organizations. Because of the high demand from communities and organizations for this program, McKenzie noted that it took close to a year for St. Clair Township police to hold a seminar with Operation Street Smart.

“We booked Operation Street Smart a year ago,” McKenzie said. “This is something we didn’t do because of anything going on. We booked it a year ago, a long time in advance. We see our issues just like any town, any other township. There’s no demographics, there’s no borders. It affects everything.”

From a school standpoint, Beaver Local Superintendent Eric Lowe discussed the importance of these programs, including one held at the former East Liverpool Motor Lodge five years ago along with another held in the county, which he considered powerful.

“There’s just so many things–as someone working with students–that I didn’t know or wouldn’t look for,” Lowe said. “I spoke to Brian last year late fall and said it would be nice with the new facility and such to get that event because we could hold it now, and that it’s good for people to hear and see some of those things to become more aware. With the recent media attention, it hit at the same time. It’s wasn’t what was intended. We already had it planned, but I do thing that it brings light to have people help with young people.”

Lowe mentioned that from attending prior seminars, he had spread the message to his fellow staff members because of the powerful message, and hoped that those in attendance from Thursday’s seminar would be able to do the same.

“I think the same type of thing happens here that these parents are going to talk to their friends, parents of other children, people they hear are professionals are going to go to work and share information they learned here,” Lowe said. “Also they’re going to spread the message that they heard here (Thursday) and some of the information that they got, and I think the more people that are knowledgeable about this subject, the bigger impact we can make them prove the situation for young people.”

Outside the auditorium, several organizations were on hand to also present information including pamphlets and other reading material.

“There’s resources out there for the people, and that’s why we wanted the vendors to come in and offer,” McKenzie said. “There’s mental health counseling. There’s drug rehabilitation counseling, and that’s why we wanted them to come in. We wanted to tie that Street Smart program to let you know what to look for, and there’s help out there for you if you really want it.”

Aside from the St. Clair Township police, other organizations on hand included Braking Point Recovery Center, The Counseling Center of Lisbon, Sean’s Bridge to Hope, Family Recovery Center, Adapt Coalition of Columbiana County, Warren Family Mission, Lifeteam EMS, Calcutta Family Care and Northstar Critical Care.