Many Wichitans were surprised when James Chung, an Ivy League-trained consultant with local roots, blasted into town this summer to offer a grim appraisal of our city’s economic future, a problem Chung contends is driven by a constrained labor market, an attitude problem and chronic underinvestment in our private and public sectors. Chung’s findings were news to those of us who think Wichita is slowly beginning to fulfill its promise as a city to be reckoned with, a place with exciting things happening in our midst.
But bad things are happening as well. Bubbling prominently underneath Wichita’s surface is a methamphetamine epidemic fueled by addicts who will do anything for their next high and who are committing major crimes at an astonishing clip.
The most significant meeting in Wichita this year was not the unveiling of the Chung report – it was the Wichita Crime Commission’s Sedgwick County Drug Summit on Oct. 25. While there were more problems cited than solutions offered, the meeting was monumentally important, as having leaders in our law enforcement community clearly articulate our issues in public was a crucial first step. The statistics on local crime attributed to meth abuse are staggering:
According to District Attorney Marc Bennett, 11 percent of all charged felony cases in Sedgwick County include at least one count of possession of meth. Seven out of 10 inmates in the Sedgwick County jail are struggling with drug addiction, and many are addicted to meth. Meth addicts are often paranoid, delusional and willing to commit violent crimes to obtain more drugs. As the euphoric effects diminish, abusers enter the “tweaking” stage in which they go long periods without sleep and become increasingly anxious, irritable and violent without provocation – leading to disastrous results. Local tragedies, such as the shooting death of Sedgwick County Deputy Robert Kunze at the hands of a meth-fueled criminal, are illustrative of the drug’s dangerous side effects. Other violent crimes are happening all around our city on a regular basis which can be directly traced to meth abuse.
Wichita’s long and tortured efforts to eradicate the drug are unsurprising when national statistics are considered, as our federal government has waged a decades-long battle against the drug with mixed results. As Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter declared at the summit, “We’ve been fighting the War on Drugs since the 1980s. And we’re losing.”
In 2005, Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Act in an effort to curb pseudoephedrine-based production. But stomping out pseudoephedrine access did little to dissuade producers, who simply found a way to make more of the drug at a cheaper cost. Mexican drug cartels have now cornered the market, and traffickers are delivering 100 percent pure product at a cheap price. There is more meth on the streets in 2018 than ever before, which means more people are becoming addicted, more people are committing crimes to support their addiction, and more people are dying from it.
The Trump Administration has focused its efforts on countering opiate abuse, which is also a major problem in our country. But the meth epidemic cannot and must not be overlooked – especially here in Wichita. We must not let crime in our city run rampant at the hands of methamphetamine abuse. We must continue to discuss the problem before our conversations can turn to tangible solutions, and the Drug Summit was a great start.
Blake Shuart is a Wichita attorney.