Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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March 27, 2013

Drug war

Crisis mandates action in McDowell

— — Sheriff Martin West is asking the three elected members of the McDowell County Commission to step up and help provide the funding and resources needed by the sheriff’s office to fight the county’s rampant drug problem. He makes a compelling argument — particularly after four deputies were injured while responding to a meth lab in the county’s Big Creek District.

Since assuming the sheriff’s post on Jan. 1, West and deputies at the sheriff’s office have located and eliminated a number of meth labs in the county, including several near the city of War. However, during the last investigation, four deputies had to be treated, and one of the four was hospitalized after being exposed to fumes and chemicals at the meth lab site.

West correctly points to the incident as an example of why the sheriff’s department needs more funding from the commission to help battle the rampant drug problem in the county.

“We need help from the county commission to get the vehicles and equipment we need to do our job properly,” West said last week. “These officers went in without equipment for the safety of other officers because there were two people in this lab. Those toxic fumes impact us on our jobs, and it’s horrible to think how they may impact a child living in this environment. These were four, healthy officers who had to be treated because of these chemicals. You can understand the damage this drug causes. While our officers were being treated, the two suspects didn’t show any effects because of constant exposure.”

Deputies who responded to the meth lab reported seeing a large smoke cloud at the site. They complained of burning skin, prolonged coughing and chest pains after being exposed to the meth lab.

West says he asked the commission for funding assistance, but adds his request for assistance was denied. Commission President Gordon Lambert says the county is currently in a budget crunch and cannot afford additional funding for equipment or training. He adds that some equipment is already available for deputies responding to such calls.

Lambert said no county budgets were cut, but adds no departments saw increases either. He says a decrease in the county’s coal severance tax funds, as well as a reduction in state dollars, also has impacted the county. Lambert adds other challenges facing the commission includes covering retirement, Social Security and PEIA insurance for county employees.

“We haven’t really had any (meth) labs until lately,” Lambert said last week. “This was not something we have been prepared for. We will be looking at this, because it’s very important. However, if we don’t have the money there is nothing we can do. We can’t cut someone else’s budget to supplement this.”

That may be the case, but the commissioners should be well aware of the seriousness of the county’s rampant drug problem. It is a crisis, and a crisis requires action. No stone should be left unturned by either the commissioners or the sheriff when it comes to searching for the funding, resources and manpower needed to win this drug war.

 

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