FARMINGTON — Juvenile methamphetamine arrests are rare in San Juan County, and organizers of an anti-methamphetamine campaign directed at fifth graders say that's evidence their program is working.
In the last three years, just two people younger than 18 years old have been charged with possession of meth, according to records from the San Juan County District Attorney's Office.
Paul McQuery, the president of the Don't Meth With Us Foundation, said there are few juvenile meth arrests because all local students attend a Don't Meth With Us program as fifth graders. The curriculum they learn during the program stays with them, McQuery said.
Organizers started offering the program in San Juan County school districts in 2006. That means that this year, students in fifth through 12th grades will have gone through the program.
"We have to reach them before they enter middle school," McQuery said of the reason the program is aimed at fifth graders.
San Juan County students in the last 10 years have reported on state surveys a significant decrease in meth use. In 2003, 10 percent of high school girls and 12 percent of high school boys reported using meth. In 2013, 2.3 percent of high school students in San Juan County reported they used meth, according to youth risk and resiliency reports.
Methamphetamine charges in juvenile court have decreased in the last five years, according to data provided by the district attorney's office. In 2008 and 2009, three juveniles were charged with meth possession. In 2010, no juveniles were charged with possession of the drug. There was one arrest in 2011 and 2012, and there were no arrests in 2013, according to district attorney's records.
During a Don't Meth With Us program at Ladera Del Norte Elementary School on Thursday, fifth graders got about a 40-minute crash course on methamphetamine, and, at the end, they pledged to never try it.
Allen Elmore, a volunteer for the program, led the seminar. He went over the ingredients found in meth and statistics on how likely first-time users are to become addicted. He also showed students mug shots of meth addicts with open wounds and sores on their mouths, which made the fifth graders cringe in disgust.
"Meth is so nasty. It's so bad that we can tell the truth about it," McQuery said. "It gives us the power and the reason to be here and tell the truth. And then close with 'Why do any drugs?'"
McQuery said the meth program is different than other anti-drug campaigns because it doesn't overexaggerate the problems with drugs.
"The only bad thing we say about marijuana is that it puts you on the wrong path," McQuery said.
While juvenile arrests for meth are rare, officials said drug and alcohol use among teenagers is a significant program.
Juvenile arrests for prescription drug possession have increased in recent years in San Juan County. There were no juveniles charged in 2008. Four were charged in 2009, five in 2010, 10 in 2011, five in 2012 and two in 2013, according to district attorney's office records.
Marijuana is by far the most frequently prosecuted drug offense against juveniles. There were 37 marijuana charges against juveniles in 2013, 34 in 2012 and 41 in 2011, according to district attorney's office records.
San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien said more juveniles were arrested for marijuana than those numbers indicate, but their cases were handled informally. In some juvenile cases, law enforcement officials allow the children arrested for marijuana possession to complete probation or other alternative sentences, and, in exchange for their compliance, they are not officially charged with crimes, he said.
Traci Neff, the administrator of San Juan County Juvenile Services, reiterated that while meth use among juveniles is rare, drug and alcohol abuse among teenagers is still a problem statewide and in San Juan County.
Neff said education programs about the dangers of meth have deterred juveniles from using the drug.
"You ask a kid about meth, and they say, 'Oh no, I'm not going to touch the stuff'," Neff said.
Neff said juveniles who are in custody answer questions about their drug use history before they are brought into the juvenile detention center. Rarely do the juveniles say they have tried meth, but they do report using alcohol and other drugs, she said.
Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.