Mingo County serves as West Virginia's drug den - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Mingo County serves as West Virginia's drug den

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Sarah Trager Sarah Trager
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  • Changes to the oil, gas industry create benefits, concern

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Sarah Trager is a recent graduate of Wellesley College who is currently interning at the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C.

Amid the reports of political corruption and narcotics peddling within local government, Mingo County residents are eager to clean up their neighborhoods. An article published by WOWK-TV Oct. 8 reported that school administrators would begin issuing random drug tests in two of its high schools in an effort to deter the young generation from falling into the same vicious cycle as their parents and grandparents. 

One of the main proponents of the new policy is Ted Kinder, athletic director and assistant principal at Mingo Central High School. He supports this new initiative because "there's been a history of drug abuse in our area," he said. "It's not our intent to catch (students); it's our intent to hopefully prevent the use." 

Kinder continues by explaining "if students test positive, administrators will push them towards rehabilitation programs or counseling — not the police." The policy is meant to support, not punish, individuals who are struggling with drug addiction. 

Although drug testing will only be administered to student athletes, those who drive to school and those who are enrolled in extracurricular activities, this will leave the majority of the student body under scrutiny. 

Yet students like Chase Justice, who is a junior on the football team, argue that if the school wants to drug test some students, they might as well test everyone. 

"It's only fair," he says. 

Whether it's fair or not, other students who were interviewed also urged the school board to strongly consider expanding the reach of the drug testing to apply to all students, faculty and staff who are affiliated with the high schools if they are truly looking to rid the area of drugs. 

The Mingo County school board is making an active effort to invest in the future of the county and to improve the quality of life in the region. The school board's policy, albeit long overdue, is a hopeful step toward progress and prosperity. 

And county residents are certainly ready for a positive change. Known as "Bloody Mingo" and forever a haven for vice, Mingo County has been fraught with poverty, drug abuse, political corruption and crime since its founding in 1895. Home to the Hatfield-McCoy feud, the Matewan Massacre and the 1986 Preece scandal, this southwestern tip of West Virginia has had a troubled history. it is unlikely to break anytime soon. 

Even as recently as 2012, the Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities published a report suggesting that Mingo County is one of the unhealthiest counties in West Virginia. According to the state agency, 37 percent of residents suffer from obesity and 19.7 percent of people have suffered from a heart attack, angina or stroke, putting Mingo at the top of the charts for most cardiac arrests. Although Mingo residents ranked lower than West Virginia for drug use (marijuana, cocaine and prescription pills), it ranked significantly higher in terms of drug overdose deaths (9.3 per 10,000 people compared to 5.3 per 10,000 people). Safe habits are most definitely not practiced here. 

Perhaps this ill behavior could be attributed to the lack of moral leadership. In common Mingo fashion, a slew of government leaders were recently exposed and brought to trial for instances of extortion, drug dealing and extramarital affairs, leaving residents disappointed but no longer surprised. 

What did surprise many, though, were the allegations that the late sheriff, Eugene Crum, was associated with area drug dealers. The press had always painted him as a savior to Mingo — someone who was actively working to clean up the county and making it a safer place to live and raise a family. After Crum's death, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., released a statement honoring Sheriff Crum for his 57 felony drug convictions during his short three-month tenure. While serving as drug task force commander, Crum was committed to fighting crime, especially targeting the drug dealers of Mingo County. (Former) Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury remembered Crum's devotion to keeping the people of Mingo County safe. When asked why drug busting was so important to him, Crum once replied, "I made a promise to the residents of this county that if they would elect me to the office of sheriff, I would concentrate on drug cases. … I have proudly kept my promise."

Yet, reports surfaced that the sheriff may have had a history of drug use, particularly prescription pills, while he was serving as a county magistrate. It is believed that once he entered office, the sheriff conspired to keep his former drug dealer from speaking with FBI officials about his past transactions. On April 3, 2013, while eating lunch in his cruiser, he was fatally shot in the head as he patrolled the local pain clinic he had recently closed down. 

Since his death, government leaders such as U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and Huntington Police Chief W.H. "Skip" Holbrook are continuing Crum's living legacy with the launch of an anti-drug campaign. In late September 2013, both officials met with Huntington Middle School students and faculty to educate students about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. Afterward, they screened a film titled, "E.O.D. Equal Opportunity Destroyer."

"This issue is absolutely the most pressing law enforcement and public health issue facing our community," Holbrook shared. "We've seen the tragic results of opiate addiction at an alarming rate." 

According to the press release, they believe that "building relationships between the law enforcement and education communities is essential toward strengthening prevention efforts." This campaign, along with the implementation of the randomized drug testing, are two of several initiatives Mingo County residents have taken on to combat the overwhelming drug abuse and poor health standards that are ravaging the region today. 

Another such initiative is the STOP Coalition. STOP, which stands for "Strong Through Our Plan," is a non-profit organization founded to address the prominent concern of substance abuse in Southern West Virginia. Since the early 1990s, its mission has been to conduct research, promote awareness and provide consulting in an effort to reduce substance abuse in Mingo County. So far, STOP has published quantitative progress reports as well as worked with the school board to design the aforementioned drug-testing model.

While commendable in their efforts, these anti-drug initiatives will continue to struggle with efficacy until Mingo's government sobers up and begins to serve the county faithfully and lawfully. Leaders are meant to serve as model citizens; however, Thornsbury, former Commissioner Dave Baisden, and Sheriff Crum did not exemplify honest leadership. It makes perfect sense that Mingo would be in the depressed state that it is in currently due to its lack of stable, positive leadership. Witnessing local leaders succumb to drug dealing like the Preeces in 1986, residents have been taught that it's ok to engage in this type of illegal activity. 

Perhaps with several new anti-drug initiatives in place, this will be the last of scandals for Mingo County. Then again, it's in their nature.