The impact of drugs extends beyond the direct affect they have on the economy of McCreary County. They have other, far-reaching affects that take a toll on the wallets of every citizen.
Last week we reported an estimated $2.5 million is spent each month for the purchase of illegal narcotics.
That total represents just a fraction of the overall costs of drugs in McCreary County.
There are costs to the community of dealing with the drug issue as well.
McCreary County Ambulance Service Director Jimmy Barnett estimated more than half of the ambulance runs in 2016 were drug related.
Of about 4,400 runs last year, 2,564 could be categorized as drug related Barnett said. Some, such as overdoses are pretty easy to categorize, but others aren’t as easy to distinguish.
“You may have a 25-year-old man who calls in reporting chest pains,” Barnett said. “He may be having a bad reaction to something he took, and is either too embarrassed or scared to tell us, so he makes up symptoms.”
An ambulance run from McCreary County to Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital can cost anywhere between $500 to $900; and depending on what medications or equipment is used during the transport the total cost to the victim can be in the thousands.
Barnett said most of the cost is reimbursed through Medicare and Medicaid, so the patient sees very little of the cost directly, but the money has to come from somewhere – tax dollars. And while the Ambulance Service is pretty self-sufficient when it comes to revenue generation, the time medics spend treating or responding to drug-related calls drives up cost and takes critical personnel out of the base.
With government medical covering most of the costs, the Ambulance Service often gets only a small percentage of what they bill for their services.
Additional costs include paying the personnel, fuel for the ambulance and equipment used, which can make a single run cost upwards of $2,000 has to come from somewhere, and that takes up resources that could be spent on upgrading services.
“Not to mention,” Barnett added, “that ties up an ambulance and crew for about three hours. We could have a serious run, and have to scramble to free up a unit to respond.”
Despite the efforts of local, state and federal law enforcement efforts, the drug problem in McCreary County isn’t getting better, Barnett said.
“I firmly believe that we are in the middle of a drug epidemic,” Barnett said. “In the six years I have been here, our runs have increased by over 1,000 per year, and most of that is due to drugs.”
On the prosecution end, the cost to the county continues to add up.
If an arrest is made in a drug-related case thousands of more dollars can be spent just to bring a suspect to court.
“The man hours on a single drug case can add up,” Sheriff Waters said. “We want to make sure we have everything in place when we present a case before a judge. If we don’t, the case will probably get thrown out, and the person is back on the street.”
Housing and transport of prisoners is a huge concern for McCreary County, with all the prisoners being lodged outside of the county.
With a cost of about $30 per day at most housing facilities, McCreary County has seen monthly housing bills of over $65,000 each month. It is projected that housing costs for the next fiscal year will cost the County more than $800,000 alone.
Factoring in medical expenses, transport costs as well as fuel and maintenance, more than $1.1 million is projected to be spent on jail-related costs next year.
Granted, not all prisoners are directly incarcerated for drug-related crimes, but local law enforcement officials say a majority of them can be linked to drugs at some point.
“We may have a bench warrant on an individual for non-payment of fines,” Sheriff Waters said. “By law that person has to go to jail. Even if they bond out once they get there, it costs the county money.”
“The arrest isn’t drug related, but in many cases the original charge was. The person went before a Judge, possibly for a possession charge or something similar, and they get a fine imposed against them.”
“If they don’t make the required payments, a warrant is issued and they get arrested again.”
Next week we will look at another aspect of the cost of drugs in our community. One that may take the highest toll – the effect drugs have on families.