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Welfare And Drugs
Waste Watch: Abusing Drugs And The System
February 20, 2013

C L I C K   T O   P L A Y
Williamson, Mingo County, W.Va.

Drug abuse and abusing the system, in an Eyewitness News exclusive, we're digging into a serious problem with those on public assistance, using and selling drugs.

There are no statistics kept on how many people within the welfare system in West Virginia get in trouble for drugs or how many of those arrested for drugs are on welfare. So we set out to find out.

We headed to Southern West Virginia where officials say the drug problem has become an epidemic. But is the abuse of drugs also leading to an abuse of the system?

"What I call the culture of entitlement programs is a factor in the prescription drug epidemic in our county," Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks said.

We find out that many of those arrested for making money by selling drugs also are getting money from the government. We looked through indictments from the most recent term of the grand jury in Mingo County, zeroing in on drugs charges. Forty-three people were indicted on serious drug felonies, ranging from making drugs to selling controlled substances, usually prescription pills. Their financial information is only made public if they ask for a court appointed, taxpayer funded, attorney; 28 of the 43 did. Of those 28, none of them reported having a job and 16 said they collect a check from the government month after month for thousands of dollars in food stamps, Social Security and disability, unable to work, but police said it didn't stop them from selling drugs.

"They're making $35,000 to $45,000 a month. That's why they're doing it, for the money and for their habit," Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum said.

"Hard working taxpayers are subsidizing, unintentionally, the drug trafficking here in West Virginia," Sparks said.

We found a similar story in Boone County, but there the numbers were even higher. Again, we looked through the most recent returns of the grand jury. Of the 16 people arrested for drugs, 13 reported no jobs and eight of the 16 , half, were collecting money from the government when they were arrested.

"There's a tale of two worlds in Southern West Virginia. There's the segment of the population who are the hardest working in the country," Sparks said. "Then there's the other segment who have grown up in a culture of entitlement and have become dependent."

Sparks said it's become so bad in his county that 90 percent of all criminal cases directly relate back to drugs, and adds, rarely do those who are arrested have a job. So rare, Sparks said they often work with those who are employed if they aren't facing serious charges.

"Somewhere along the way, we've lost the value of work," Sparks said. "Idleness is the root of mischief."

Sparks also pointed out prescription pills are often obtained with federally funded medical cards and then he said those pills are either abused or sold illegally for profit.

When it comes to those government benefits, only a conviction makes people ineligible for them and they can't reapply if the conviction is for drugs, but for some benefits their family members are still eligible. Several of those arrested in Mingo County had prior drug convictions, so that could have affected the numbers.

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