Crime statistics in Yavapai County look pretty good compared to four years ago when the Methamphetamine Advisory Task Force Yavapai County Substance Abuse Coalition came into being.
Whether the decrease is due to MATForce’s existence is difficult to pinpoint, MATForce Co-Chairman Doug Bartosh said. Yet, it has had great successes in bringing about awareness, education and legislation regarding drug abuse. Bartosh co-chairs with Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk.
“With any crime statistics there are a lot of factors that play into it. Certainly MATForce is a major factor,” Bartosh said. “The most important element with MATForce is it is not just one entity; it’s everybody in the community.”
Recently retired Sedona Police Department Chief Joe Vernier said MATForce is probably one of the most effective, private, public and nonprofit partnerships he has seen in 38-plus years of law enforcement.
“Working with different agencies on education, treatment and in the courts has made far greater impact than law enforcement and the courts alone,” Vernier said. “I’ve seen people turn corners.”
Vernier likened the drug crime process before MATForce to a circle. People would get arrested, incarcerated, released, arrested, then incarcerated.
“From a traditional cop’s perspective, dealing with chemical addictions we see the same people. The cycle continues, sometimes for generations. Where MATForce has had a real impact is to break that cycle,” Vernier said. “When MATForce came together and included resources, all of a sudden there is help for these people.”
MATForce has representatives from law enforcement, business, schools, youth organizations, parents and caregivers, faith-based communities, government, the media, health care agencies, and the treatment and recovery community.
“We here in Sedona had some major decreases since 2006. MATForce is one factor — a significant factor,” Vernier said.
In Cottonwood, Bartosh, the former police chief and now city manager, said the crime rate is down 40 percent, and in Yavapai County, felony crimes are down 30 percent.
“As we all know, a major portion [of felony crimes] are drug related,” Bartosh said.
In the 2010 Executive Summary for MATForce, which presented figures for 2008, the percentage of youth in the county who used alcohol during their lifetime dropped for all three grades polled: 12th, 10th and eighth. Bartosh said 2010 figures were not yet available.
In the 12th grade in 2006, 80.6 percent admitted to using alcohol. Two years after MATForce started, the percentage dropped to 78.9. For 10th grade the percentage went from 77.7 to 68.3 and eighth grade dropped from 51.8 percent in 2006 and to 49.7 percent by 2008.
Use of marijuana showed similar decreases, but with methamphetamine the decreases were more drastic. Twelfth-grade students went from 6.1 percent admitting use in 2006 to 3.5 percent in 2008. Tenth-grade figures dropped from 3.7 percent to 2.7 percent and eighth grade numbers decreased from 2.7 percent to 1.3 percent.
Within MATForce people saw a problem with drugs and were anxious to do something about it, Bartosh said.
More than 300 community members became involved in the fight against drug use through MATForce. A Dump the Drugs program was instituted and has taken nearly one ton of over-the-counter and unused prescription drugs out of the hands of abusers, especially teens. MATForce instituted a speakers’ bureau; helped put decals on school buses; put substance abuse messages on movie theater screens; put box topper advertisements on pizza boxes; produced and distributed thousands of pens, lip balm,
T-shirts, cups, bumper stickers and Faces of Meth posters.
MATForce has participated in multiple community events; placed large banners across key community streets; organized community forums; and trained coalition members on drug use identification, substance abuse trends and other relevant topics.
The coalition has provided materials to schools, implemented youth video and poster contests, conducted parenting classes, created a service provider resource directory, created a recovery coaching program and other assistive programs.
One of the biggest events is the annual March Against Meth parade in Cottonwood, along with a community fair.
The list is long for a 4-year-old organization, Bartosh said.
“[Cottonwood] was the first to put Sudafed behind the counter, which put a halt to easy access of the main ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine, pseudoephedrine. Mexico has made pseudoephedrine illegal. That has cut off the supply as well,” Bartosh said. “Unfortunately, rural areas are experiencing ‘smurfing.’ Drug addicts get kids to buy Sudafed, then they make their meth.”
Due to this new trend, MATForce is looking at getting legislation passed to make pseudoephedrine prescription-only.
“We don’t want to see that epidemic return,” Bartosh said.
Having a number of people from different agencies involved has allowed the group to keep up with the new trends in the drug world. For example, Bartosh said MATForce knew prescription drugs would fill the void left by the lack of methamphetamine.
“This has been a county-wide effort. Sheila Polk really deserves a lot of credit. It was her vision,” Bartosh said.
Bartosh’s drive behind MATForce stemmed from his first year as the Cottonwood Police Department chief.
“We had six drug-related homicides in 2005: The one on State Route 260 where four people were killed by someone driving with meth in his system. Then there were two people at an apartment complex killed by a man on meth,” Bartosh said. “Since then we’ve had one, maybe two.”
Another way Bartosh said he knows MATForce has made an impact is through conversations with narcotics officers.
“They tell me it’s tougher to get a buy on any drugs, and they’re not seeing as much meth,” Bartosh said.
For more information about MATForce, call 708-0100.