Continuing the conversation
Saratoga Town Council, county prevention specialist discuss substance use in community
June 9, 2021
As the Saratoga Town Council continues their quest to obtain information and data from the Saratoga Police Department, the governing body received a visit from Sally Patton, Carbon County Prevention Specialist, during their June 1 meeting.
Recent meetings have seen the council—especially Councilmember Jon Nelson—questioning Police Chief Ken Lehr on discrepancies between information provided to the council outside of public meetings and what has been included in published police reports. During the May 18 meeting of the town council, Lehr stated his department was seeing an increase in drug related crimes, adding he had personally picked up drug paraphernalia in the change rooms of the Saratoga Hot Pool.
“The people who use and abuse alcohol and drugs are around 10 percent of our population. They are about 98 percent of what law enforcement becomes involved with, so we have a lot of work to continue to do with that,” said Patton. “We have high rates of adult binge drinking. In 2019 we had the highest rate of hospital admissions for opioid poisonings. We beat Campbell County with that one. Those rates have gone down.”
According to the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police (WASCOP) 2020 Alcohol and Crime in Wyoming report, nearly 28 percent of arrests in Carbon County for driving under the influence involved drugs while the state average was 15.53 percent. Additionally, the average blood alcohol content of individuals in Carbon County arrested for public intoxication was .2700 while the state average was .2229.
In a March 2018 report from the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center (WySAC) entitled “Telling the Story of Opioid Use in Wyoming”, Carbon County had the highest rate of inpatient visits to hospitals due to opioids. At a rate of per 100,000, Carbon County had 38 inpatient visits while Fremont County and Hot Springs county had 31.
“The good news is, we have kids who are doing well. We have kids who are delaying the age that they begin using alcohol and drugs. That speaks to their family, that speaks to their religiosity, that speaks to the protective factors that we offer as a community. But, the thing that puts our kids at risk is the number of kids who report seeing intoxicated adults at community events,” Patton said. “Witnessing that kind of behavior puts them at a higher risk of thinking that that is normal, that that is something that’s socially acceptable.”
In the 2020 report from WASCOP, out of 102 reported statewide responses, 38.24 percent of minors said they obtained alcohol from a private party, 35.29 percent said they obtained alcohol from home and 25.49 percent said they obtained alcohol from a retail liquor store.
Patton added it was due to children seeing intoxicated adults at community events the Carbon County Prevention Network encouraged protocols that would make public events. These protocols included attendees self-policing and Training for Invitation Procedures (TIPS).
“Most of these protocols for special events are incorporated into your permit application,” said Patton. “We don’t require that, we suggest that. Because of the liability stuff our bar owners and liquor license holders are pretty good about that.”
According to Patton, however, the biggest issue in encouraging TIPS training for events was the lack of certified trainers in the area.
“We've had people in the past with law enforcement or in the community that could do it. When we don’t have law enforcement agencies that have administrative support or chiefs that are administrators and not on the street, those are extra tasks that sometimes we don’t get accomplished,” Patton said. “I don’t know if there’ll ever be a good time to have a conversation about how a community provides law enforcement if we keep beating on our own law enforcement.”
She added one of the more difficult parts about being in the prevention field was, if the prevention was working, it was difficult to measure exactly how much law enforcement was doing everyday.
“I think, Sally, what prompted you to come before us this week is I think we are trying to start a dialogue and part of what you said in terms of when’s a good time to start a conversation. I think I said this last week, if we have a problem and we’re not willing to talk about it then it’s certainly not going to get any better,” said Nelson. “Your point about prevention is hard to measure is one other that kind of struck me and that’s kind of what we’ve been struggling with too, on the council, is we’re trying to respond to what we’re hearing is a problem going on in our community and we’re trying to help the police department and Chief Lehr respond to that in the ways that he’s requesting resources to do so.”
The council member added, while he believed the governing body was trying to help the police department respond to a problem within the community, it seemed as if the council was receiving conflicting information.
“If we’re not talking about it, there’s no public dialogue about the problems in the community and the information that we get as a council from our police department doesn’t present that information but then we hear about needs for resources and needs for additional funding,” Nelson said. “There’s certainly some overlaps there with what we’re facing in this community and how we’re trying to address it and I think it just does go back to being communicative about it, that that’s the first step. So we’re all aware of what’s going on, we all understand what the problem is and hopefully if we all understand the problem we can all be on the same page about how to address it.”
In response, Patton stated while she was in agreement with the town council a discussion needed to take place, her experience had been most people did not appear to want to know what was taking place within the community.
“I’d rather have that conversation here and do something about it than have somebody come from out of town and have an experience there,” said Nelson. “Well, that’s going to change their perception of what Saratoga is all about a lot quicker and a lot more dramatically than a conversation at a council meeting.”
The next meeting of the Saratoga Town Council will be at 6 p.m. on June 15 at Saratoga Town Hall.