Illegal Drug Use Affects Our Community in Real Ways

Illegal Drug Use Affects Our Community in Real Ways
Posted on 09/03/2018

By Council Member Mike Shelton

I have had the opportunity to ride along with the Cottonwood Heights Police Department and with the officers of the Unified Police Department a handful of times. It has been an eye-opening experience every time, and has made me grateful for the dedicated men and women of law enforcement who do so much to keep us safe. Each time I have gone, I have felt the concern that comes when you realize that you will be with those who daily put themselves in harm’s way. And every time, my shift has ended with an immense sense of pride in the way the officers deal with the public.

On an average Tuesday night last summer, I had the opportunity to ride along for a shift with the officers of the Cottonwood Heights Police Department. I was with them from just before sundown until morning.

If memory serves, we participated in eight stops that night. One stop involved a young man on an unregistered motorcycle without lights (the officers provided him with some training on safe motorcycle operation and got him home safely). On the other seven stops, there was a common thread that ran through each: 

The officers stopped a couple speeding in a vehicle out of the canyon and down Fort Union Boulevard. During the stop, they discovered illegal drugs.

There was a suspicious vehicle in the parking lot of a local hotel. During the stop, the officers discovered illegal drugs.

There was a suspicious vehicle in the parking lot of one of our large retail stores. During the stop, the officers discovered illegal drugs.

We were called to a home where a first date had gone horribly wrong, and the woman was unconscious. In searching the home, officers discovered illegal drugs.

We pulled into one of our parks in the early hours of the morning and found a middle-aged man in a vehicle with an underage female. During the stop, the officers discovered illegal drugs.

The other stops were more of the same. By the time that evening was through, officers had seized heroin, meth, marijuana and crack, had impounded vehicles, and had sent some offenders to jail. Again, this was just an average Tuesday evening.

It was shocking to me to discover that such a high percentage of crime in Cottonwood Heights was, in one way or another, related to drugs. I later asked Police Chief Robby Russo if my experience was unusual; he indicated that the vast majority of crime, in Cottonwood Heights and throughout the nation, is drug-related. 

I have always thought about the manufacture, distribution and use of drugs as being the primary drug-related crime. Unfortunately, the real problem of drug-related crime is much larger.

Such crime often intersects with the general public in ways that may not always be apparent.  One of the major problems stems from the immense cost of sustained drug use by an addict. Former drug addicts reveal that the cost of a significant drug addiction ranges from tens of thousands of dollars annually to over a million dollars in the lifetime of some addicts.  (See data from The Recovery Village at left). Where does all the money come from?

There is an old saying in law enforcement that there are three ways addicts can afford drugs: They can steal, they can deal, or they can prostitute. When the annual cost of feeding addiction exceeds the annual income of the addict, crime is often the result. In Cottonwood Heights, a majority of property crimes (theft, burglary, fraud and shoplifting) have a nexus to illegal drugs.

Most of us know good people who are struggling with a family member in the grips of addiction. It is a heart-wrenching issue. Illegal drug use claims casualties across all social, economic and religious groups, and it affects communities of all sizes. Cottonwood Heights is no exception.  In a host of ways, illegal drug use impacts all of us. In a very real way, it will take all of us working together to find solutions.