Stay off drugs.

That’s the simple message local officials try in a variety of ways to get across to young people before they might think of picking up a joint or a needle. More than one-third of the money raised by Jackson County’s anti-drug tax – COMBAT – goes to prevent or treat drug abuse.

Stay off drugs.
That’s the simple message local officials try in a variety of ways to get across to young people before they might think of picking up a joint or a needle. More than one-third of the money raised by Jackson County’s anti-drug tax – COMBAT – goes to prevent or treat drug abuse. Voters will decide Tuesday whether to renew the 20-year-old quarter-cent sales tax.
“It’s not just prevention. It’s not just DARE. It’s not just the Drug Task Force,” said Stacey Daniels-Young, COMBAT’s director. The county has several efforts, from locking up dealers to rooting out some of the basic causes of poor decisions that lead people to drugs.
The split of COMBAT funds – about $19.9 million this year – reflects those various efforts. If COMBAT funds can be thought of as a pie, they would fall into 10 differently sized slices. Basically, five of those 10 slices fall to law enforcement: the Jackson County Drug Task Force, the Kansas City Police Department, the county prosecutor’s office, the courts and the county jail. That’s 55.5 percent of the funds.
Another 34.5 percent is prevention and treatment: 6 percent for Drug Court, 6 percent for the D.A.R.E. program in the schools, 7.5 percent for drug-prevention programs and 15 percent for drug treatment.
The last 10 percent – matching money for outside grants – can fall across many of those areas.
Officials say the drug problem won’t ever go away but that COMBAT has given law enforcement the resources to close drug houses and chase meth makers out of the county. They also say every dollar spent on prevention or treatment saves $18 down the line on arresting, prosecuting and jailing those whose drug problem leads them to crime.
And they say there is progress. Nationwide, drug crimes are up 16 percent, county officials say, but this county has seen a 4.7 percent drop.
“We’re the only place going south,” said County Prosecutor Jim Kanatzar.

Drug Court
Although many might identify COMBAT with the DARE program or the Drug Task Force, officials consistently point to Drug Court – the second in the country after Miami-Dade County – as a signature success.
“Drug Court, I think, is one of the most successful approaches and innovations to criminality in our country, ever,” said Kanatzar, whose office runs the program.
It’s a diversion program, and the idea is to avoid the cycle of crime, jail time and a criminal record that limits a person’s chances of success in life, then more crime.
“It is very difficult to get out of that cycle of crime,” Kanatzar said,
The program offers a second chance – maybe a last chance – but comes with lots of conditions: The person must be a county resident. He’s a user and has been charged with having a relatively small amount of drugs. His crimes are nonviolent, such as property crimes or using a fraudulent prescription.
The program includes drug treatment, drug testing and going to school or working toward getting a job. Graduates walk away without a criminal record. While four of out five drug offenders normally will go on to commit another crime, about 1,600 people have gone through Drug Court, and officials say 94 percent of them have not committed more crimes.
“And you also give them a new lease on life, and they’re back in the work force and adding to the tax base instead of subtracting from it,” Kanatzar said.

Getting outside money
The county sets aside 10 percent of COMBAT money to match grants and is active in seeking money from the federal government and elsewhere. Officials say COMBAT programs such as the Drug Court help put Jackson County at the head of the line.
Federal officials, Kanatzar said, tend to be fiscally conservative and “want to spend their money on things they know work.”

Prevention and DARE
A lot of COMBAT money is given to dozens of local groups and school districts to work with young people.
Daniels-Young puts it this way: Younger kids need to hear a clear message – drugs are bad. Older kids need guidance to develop good decision-making skills.
DARE is one way to work on those issues. It’s used is schools across the county just as it’s used across the country.
“For suburban communities, sometimes that’s the only prevention you get,” said Daniels-Young.
Kanatzar sees two leading components of crime: young people not seeing positive role models and young people not hearing a positive message. DARE matters, he said, because in many instances “they’re not getting that message anywhere else.”
The county also distributes money for rehabiliation, going to treatment facilities across the county.
Daniels-Young acknowledges that some people have to go through rehab again and again before getting clean.
“It’s like a lot of other chronic diseases,” she said.
Asked how he would re-divide the pie, Kanatzar said different people would have different views and that, being in law enforcement, he sees a critical need for more jail space. That said, he emphasized the need for the range of prevention, treatment and law-enforcement efforts.
“You’ve got to take a multi-pronged approach to the problem,” he said, “or you’re not going to get anywhere.”
Saturday: Law-enforcement efforts.