Pill-popping addicts roam the streets of Oceana, brazenly crushing up prescription medications and snorting them to get high.

When the weather is suitable, these vagrants sleep under a bridge.

Others take nightly refuge in a tent erected in a vacant lot in town, spending their waking hours buying and using controlled substances. Citizens also are complaining that prostitutes are part of the drug scene in Oceana, a small town in Wyoming County with a population around 1,400.

All the while, the ordinary, law-abiding citizen grows more restless over such lawlessness.

“They’ve had enough of it,” says Delegate Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming, who has been besieged of late with messages from residents weary of seeing their town turned into a haven for nomadic drug abusers.

“They don’t even want their kids walking up and down the sidewalk,” Hall said Monday.

“Oceana used to be a town where you could get out and exercise. You could turn your kids loose. People are just not comfortable doing that any more. It’s a real problem.”

Hall isn’t sure just what the answer is to the drug problem in Oceana.

One entity known as One Voice works with churches in an effort to wean addicts off pills, and Hall applauded the group’s work.

“A lot of what they do is with education, and that’s a great thing,” the lawmaker said.

“But I think we’re going to have to do something else. Education is only going to go so far. You could show them all the love they want and educate them all you want to educate them, but until they decide they want to change their behavior we may have to force it on them.”

Wyoming County Prosecutor Rick Staton wanted the Legislature in the recent session to put up $10 million for treatment centers, as was recommended by the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute and the West Virginia Association of Counties.

“We don’t have those in West Virginia,” Staton said.

Rather than approve the funding, the prosecutor said, the Legislature decided to spend $10 million a year for a decade so gambling casinos can purchase new machines.

“The other thing is we just need more manpower,” the former majority leader of the House of Delegates said.

“I’ve got one person who works drugs here. And it’s just such a proliferation. Last summer, we stopped buying drugs for a while because we couldn’t keep up with the paperwork.”

Drug abuse is a countywide problem, the prosecutor said, but Oceana is especially problematic.

“Those people are just treading water,” Staton said. “Everybody is just treading water there.”

The easiest source for drugs appears to be the medicine cabinet at home, he said. People suffer an injury that requires a pain killer, ingest half of the prescription and sell the rest.

Doctor shopping, thus, hasn’t bypassed the small towns in West Virginia such as Oceana.

“In one case, a lady had circled on her calendar what pharmacies and what doctors to go to on what days,” Staton said.

“She had it down to a system.”

Staton said his policy as a prosecutor is to insist on a “pretty stringent” enforcement of existing laws.

“You have people who are addicts and people who are sellers,” he said. “As long as there’s money in it, you’re not going to treat either one of them.”

Federal authorities have just begun to take an active role in the problem nationwide, Staton said, unlike the past two years when they weren’t pursuing the matter.

“I’m not in it for the glory,” Staton said.

“I just want them off the street. I’m not interested in a turf battle as to who gets credit for the arrest. I just want these people taken care of.”

Hall said he knows a photographer in town who must on occasion step over a drug user asleep on the doorstep of her shop.

“There is no easy answer,” the delegate said. “I don’t know what the answer is. But I’m going to work on it. People have had enough. Most of the people in Wyoming County are top-notch. But you’ve always got that small percentage ruining it for everybody else.

“People are mad. They’ve had enough. And I’m mad about it. It’s irritating. Disgusting.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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