Are there drugs in Westford?
It didn’t take long for a crowd of parents and town officials to answer that the question, but it was only the beginning of a detailed discussion on the topic at the Nabnasset Lake Country Club on Tuesday night.
Sponsored by the Westford Board of Health’s Westford Against Substance Abuse (WASA) program, the presentation “Drugs and Alcohol, Do They Exist in Westford?” provided a forum to discuss issues surrounded around drug abuse in town, particularly among children.
Following an introduction by Health Department substance abuse prevention coordinator Ray Peachey, the talk transitioned to a segment from the Westford Police Department citing concerns over escalating drug use in town, particularly with children.
Detective Sergeant William Luppold handles all cases that require court action for the Westford Police Department, and he noted that after the passage of Question 2 in 2008, which made possession of less than an ounce of marijuana a civil rather than criminal offense, it has become much more difficult to stop drug use in town.
“All we can do is give a ticket for $100, and if they don’t pay, we can take them to small claims court, which costs us more than $100,” said Luppold. “People think they’re going to get away with it, but when they get caught, they just think ‘it’s just a $100 fine, it’s not a problem.’”
According to Luppold and Westford Police chief Thomas McEnaney, one ounce can create anywhere from 38 to 56 joints, and the Department currently has 50 pounds of confiscated marijuana in its evidence locker waiting to be burned.
The two officers also talked at length on current trends in marijuana use, such as users carrying scales to make sure they are possessing under an ounce, and how the drug is often combined with other substances like Borax or Cocaine.
They also talked an increase of abusing prescription drugs and other substances that may not readily come to mind as narcotics, such as hand sanitizer, saying that students using salt to separate out the gel from the sanitizer to create a substance that is equal to 96 proof alcohol.
This trend was evident at last week’s drug takeback event at the Cameron Senior Center last weekend, where over 100 pounds of outdated prescription drugs were taken in.
The street value of these drugs, such as oxycontin and percoset to name a few, has even changed the nature of other crimes police now face.
“When I started on the force 20 years ago, with home break-ins you’d see robbers go straight to a bedroom and look for jewelry, and leave within a minute,” said McEnaney. “Instead, now they go straight to the medicine cabinet and take anything else of value on the way out.”
Parents in the audience showed frustration with the lack of information relating to drugs in schools, and speakers noted that it has become more difficult to enforce drug abuse in schools now that the town can no longer afford to maintain school resource officers.
However, Superintendent Bill Olsen indicated that he has worked with Westford Academy principal James Antonelli to address the issue, and that the safety of students in Westford’s public schools are paramount above all else.
“The most difficult decision that can be made is to expel a child from a school, because we’re parents first and educators second,” said Olsen. “But, we will not, and I want to repeat it, we will not compromise the safety of our high schools and middle schools. There are a lot of people who ask ‘why don’t you give the kids two or three chances?’, and I don’t, because if I did, the amount of drug instances would quadruple in no time.”
All of the approximately 50 people at the event agreed that additional information on the state of drug use in Westford needed to be disseminated to the public, with future discussions on the topic possible.