San Juan County, Town of Friday Harbor officials plan to reduce drug use, crimes

On Facebook, San Juan County Sheriff Ron Krebs can search his news feed, post photos and, sometimes, even view reports of alleged local crimes that his office has never received. However, to Krebs, social media should not be the first stop in the fight against crime.

“Facebook seems to be the place where people launch their complaints and make their allegations,” said Krebs. “If people have a crime to report, call the sheriff’s office; don’t post on Facebook. That is not the method to report a crime.”

Krebs said he has seen reports of alleged criminal activities like reckless driving, DUIs and suspected drug use on Facebook, but often cannot find them in his office’s database of witness statements. Reports, he explained, can only be used as evidence to build cases and prosecute criminals if they are given to the sheriff’s office.

In addition to work already underway in that department, on July 16, San Juan County and Town of Friday Harbor Councils and staff discussed rallying the community to make more official reports on alleged crimes to prevent local offenses, in particular, those related to drugs.

“Somehow if we get the community engaged, and not just talking about it … that’ll raise the awareness all the way around,” said Councilman Jamie Stephens.

Krebs explained at the meeting that residents can give undisclosed reports on alleged crimes on the sheriff’s anonymous hotline at 360-370-7629. He said his staff are also discussing creating another line that can receive text messages to prompt youth, who often text, to disclose information.

However, he added, detailed reports from identified sources are ideal to solve crimes.

“We need someone to put something in writing and stand behind it, should [the case] go to court,” said Krebs.

That is how Justin Travis Langworthy, 33, of Eastsound was convicted of possession of methamphetamine, with the intent to deliver, last March. A homeowner, who suspected Langworthy of dealing drugs, gathered information that helped bring charges and ultimately jail time for the defendant. According to court documents, a homeowner gave Langworthy’s license plate number to the sheriff’s office, prompting deputies to discover that Langworthy had a felony warrant for his arrest in California, and he was picked up soon after. When evidence such as meth, heroin and scales found in Langworthy’s car was thrown out of court, footage from the homeowner’s security camera helped identify witnesses who testified against him.

“That’s the power of good witnesses; when community members come forward and help us build a case,” said Krebs.

Attendees at the July 16 meeting discussed solutions to two problems stemming from illicit drug use: crimes, such as Langworthy’s, and health issues.

“We know we have a horrible drug problem in the community that needs to be tackled, and the resulting crime is something that is frustrating everybody,” said Duncan Wilson, Town of Friday Harbor administrator, at the meeting. Krebs said that in addition to the illegality of using illicit drugs like heroin and meth, users are known to sell drugs or steal to pay for their habit. To help combat such crimes, in about a month, Krebs said his department will receive a drug-sniffing dog, a resource they currently do not have. The dog will be used to detect illicit drugs, especially, during traffic stops.

Deputies are also now armed with Narcan, a drug used to treat opioid overdoses. Opioids include illicit drugs like heroin, as well as prescription drugs like oxycodone.

Narcan is a brand name for the drug naloxone, which reverses and blocks the effects of opioids, including restoring normal respiration. If deputies are not sure if someone is overdosing, Krebs explained that Narcan has no negative side effects if administered to a person who is unconscious for another reason, like dehydration. Deputies can also administer the drug on themselves, through a nasal swab, if they come in contact with Fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can be easily inhaled and can cause respiratory failure and even death. Strategies to prevent and treat opioid users have skyrocketed on the islands in recent years. A plan to reduce opioids on the islands, produced by the North Sound Behavioral Health Organization, states that publicly funded treatment for opiates in the county has increased 368 percent, from 2002-13. One strategy in the NSBHO plan is to find and dispose of opioid prescription medications in homes after users have died. According to the Washington State Health Department, from 2012-16, fatal overdoses from prescription opioids in San Juan County almost doubled the number of overdoses from heroin and synthetic versions. San Juan County Coroner Randy Gaylord, who is also the county’s prosecuting attorney, said that a Skagit County program, aimed to dispose of prescribed opioids, could start on the islands as soon as the second week of August.

In Skagit County, said Gaylord, the coroner is piloting a program where she collects leftover opioid prescription drugs from the families of the recently deceased to mail to drug disposal companies for free. Gaylord said he hopes that program could be implemented after unexpected deaths that the local coroner oversees, as well as expected deaths under hospice care.

Currently, anyone can discard prescription medications at drop boxes at the San Juan Island Sheriff’s Office, Lopez Island Sheriff’s Substation, Orcas Island Sheriff’s Substation, Ray’s Pharmacy on Orcas Island, and Friday Harbor Drug on San Juan. Despite the work toward mitigating local opioid use, the NSBHO plan states that seven opioid-related deaths in San Juan County from 2011-15. The San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office reported two have died so far in 2018.

“It’s a big problem, and it’ll take a lot of time and years to solve,” said Linda Crothers, with NSBHO. “As much as we’re putting a lot of effort into this, we are in no way ahead of the curve on it yet.”