Last updated: May 19. 2014 11:39PM - 1705 Views
By James O’Malley Times Leader Correspondent

Berwick police Sgt. Mike Monico addresses those attending a forum on methamphetamine at the Northwest Area High School on Monday.
Berwick police Sgt. Mike Monico addresses those attending a forum on methamphetamine at the Northwest Area High School on Monday.
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The Berwick Anti Drug Alliance hosted its meeting as part of an outreach program for neighboring communities affected by drugs. For more information, contact Maxim Furyk at (570)542-7946.

UNION TWP. — District Judge Johnny Hasay said he thinks of Shickshinny as one of Luzerne County’s hidden treasures.

“We still have our traditional values in the rural areas,” he said. “But we’re on a sinking ship.”

A presentation highlighted the borough’s growing methamphetamine problem Monday.

Hosted by the Berwick Anti Drug Alliance, police, government officials and representatives from Wyoming Valley Drug and Alcohol Services spoke at the meeting held at Northwest Area High School.

Shickshinny Mayor Beverly Moore implored citizens to speak up the first time they notice suspicious activity.

An event can seem “inconsequential today and be a deal breaker tomorrow,” she said. “When that meth lab blows up and someone’s injured, it’s too late.”

Moore said the borough’s meth problem affects everyone in the community, suggesting to no opposition that not one of the more than 40 in attendance was untouched by it.

As a practicing registered nurse, she said she frequently sees drug users treated for overdoses in her work. When such patients recover, she said, caregivers can gradually remove them from ventilators and IVs.

“But we can’t ween them off the drugs,” Moore said.

Action, she said — adding that she spoke from experience — must be taken at the family level. She called for affected families to behave as support systems and, if need be, enact tough-love policies.

“We can take this head-on,” she said, “or be enablers.”

Sgt. Mike Monico of the Berwick Police Department seconded Moore’s comments, and emphasized the importance of community interaction.

“Know who your neighbors are. Get to know them. Say hello,” he said.

Monico detailed the signs and symptoms of meth cooking and abuse, and offered brief summaries of methods used to cook the drug.

He said to look out for abnormal chemical or sulfur smells, a rapid decline in the appearance of a property and constant traffic and activity in a residence. In possible users, he said to look out for erratic or unpredictable behavior as well as the drug’s signature characteristic known as “meth mouth,” in which a person’s dental health deteriorates due to grinding and poor hygiene.

Public meetings and crime watch organizations, he said, have had noticeable effects in Berwick, which has experienced its own rash of meth issues.

Still, he said the problem is far from resolution, and referred to meth alternately as “a fast-growing problem,” and “an epidemic.” Monico encouraged a cooperative approach to rectifying it that employs education as well as pro-active policing.

“Working together is helping to solve the problem,” he said. “One person is not going to do it. Everybody’s got to get together.”

Recently, a contact at the Attorney General’s Office, Hasay said, approached the district judge with a staggering statement. His source reported, he said, that the northwest corner of Luzerne County along with its neighbor, northern Columbia County, has yielded more meth labs than anywhere else in Pennsylvania.

“I’ve never seen it as bad as it is,” Hasay said during the presentation. “I think we’ve got a couple of lost generations out there.”

With its cash-strapped police departments stretched thin, he said, the region is becoming a haven for meth dealers and cookers.

Of the 12 municipalities he oversees as district judge, he said, nine lack police departments, leaving patrol of those areas up to state police or neighboring departments.

“It’s too easy for the bad guys to make it,” he said.

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