On Friday, Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts unveiled a new team of local, state and federal law enforcement officials created to take on the meth epidemic. The Clackamas County Inter-agency Task Force includes officers from a half-dozen city police departments, as well as personnel from the sheriff's office, the district attorney's office the Oregon State Police, the Oregon National Guard and the Internal Revenue Service.
'What's exciting to me is that this task force is based on the work we did in the Overland Park neighborhood, which was paid for with a federal grant,' said Roberts. 'That small group of people had a major impact on the quality of life in that area, and we realized that if we could expand that program, we could extend those benefits to the whole county.'
In action since Sept. 5, Roberts highlighted the early accomplishments of the team, which include 19 arrests, the recovery of two stolen handguns and five children placed in protective custody.
'Meth is having an impact on our families, and most especially our children,' he said. 'This whole program is worth it, if it allows us to protect children.'
Among the dignitaries on hand for the event was Representative Darlene Hooley, who addressed about 100 local leaders and law enforcement officials in attendance.
'I don't need to tell anyone here about the horrific toll that meth has on its users and our communities,' she said. 'When I'm working on an issue, I always connect it to the faces of people I've met. A while back, I was sitting on a park bench in downtown Portland - which doesn't happen often, but there I was - and there was a man holding a baby in his arms, with a couple of other children running around.
'I asked him, 'Is that your grandbaby?' and he said, 'Yes.' We got to talking, and he told me that his daughter was a meth addict, and he didn't know where she was. He said that the real toll had been on his 12-year-old granddaughter, who had spent a year living on the street with her mother.'
She also highlighted the connection between methamphetamine abuse and identity theft, as well as property crimes such as burglary and car break-ins, which she believed would also be impacted by the taskforce.
'I have no doubt that other local governments across the country will see this program and attempt to replicate it,' she said. 'Other areas are doing some of these things, but this is a good model that could be implemented elsewhere.'
Hooley emphasized the need for the federal government to be forthcoming with funds to pay for prevention programs and treatment.
'Prevention works, but you have to do three things,' she explained. 'First, you have to cut off the supply, which goes to our efforts at the national and international levels. Second, you need to reduce demand, through treatment. Third, you need to break the cycle.'
As an example of that cycle of drug-dependency that can run through multiple generations in a single family, Hooley described a woman she had met in a shelter in Salem. Her father was dead of a heroin overdose, and her eldest son was in jail on meth-related charges.
'Even if you set aside all of the heartache and misery and the cost in human lives, prevention is a cheaper solution to this problem,' said Hooley. 'That's what's good about this group of guys and gals we have here: they recognize that we can't arrest our way out of this problem.'