Gleason brings district together for weekend event

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

“Come see us in Riverside Park on Saturday — it’s a great opportunity for people to get out of the summer heat, enjoy the most visited park in the county, have some barbecue and hear a program about a subject that impacts us all,” invited Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason.

The event, to be held Saturday, July 6, from 4-6 p.m. in Kernville’s Riverside Park, will be open to the public and free of charge.

Less than a year into his first term, Gleason is making inroads into uniting the diverse cultures within the district. Although East Kern interests range from agriculture to tourism to defense, Gleason is tackling an ugly subject that affects each of those communities — the abuse of methamphetamines.

“We are bussing people in from all over the district. I think we’ve got people from Delano, Bakersfield and Ridgecrest coming to this event,” said Gleason. “And what many people don’t realize is that the citizens of the Indian Wells Valley are the authors of this event.”

Since the beginning of Gleason’s term, he has been an advocate for promoting education on, and awareness of, methamphetamine addiction.

“This is something that has a devastating impact on our children, our families and our communities,” he said. Some 37 percent of felony charges in Kern County relate to meth abuse, he added.

He now leads a county task force that addresses those issues, but he said the solution must start at the grassroots level.

“We are not trying to advocate a government program. We are trying to educate the public so that they can take ownership of community-based programs that recognize and resolve the devastating impacts of meth abuse in our communities,” he said.

Historically the drug has been manufactured in rural communities, since a biproduct of production is a smell — which typically goes undetected in isolated locations. State statistics show user demographics reflecting that same trend, with the most common users being white, low-income and rurally based.

Gleason said that the average age users are introduced to the drug is 13.

“We had a meeting a month or two ago where I was listening to a lady from Frazier Park talking about alcohol abuse and what they were doing as a community to curb abuse in underage children,” said Gleason.

“So just as I was thinking about how that relates to what we are doing, she showed in her closing slide that 90 percent of meth users abused alcohol as children. It’s this behavioral trend that we have to look at, and that is where the educational component comes in.

“If we can get to parents early about the risks of addiction, we can reduce the kids who are lost to this,” said Gleason.

“How that benefits Kern County is clear — it will improve quality of life for our kids and our families, our schools will be more effective in focusing on education and we can shift the money that funds law enforcement to other aspects of public safety.”

The headlining speaker of the event will be former user Nick Cheff, “who has written a book about his addiction and will speak in very frank terms about the effects meth had on himself and his family,” said Gleason.

“After that, we can sit back and watch the fireworks. One nice thing about observing the Fourth celebration when Kernville does is that it will not conflict with our Ridgecrest celebration.”

Gleason thanked the generous sponsors and volunteers who will underwrite the costs.

“We already have reservations for more than 100, but I would love to see 300 people turn out to this event,” he said.

“The root of this problem is outside of the scope of the county. We are taking a leadership role in helping the community recognize the problem and take steps to address it. That won’t happen in one day. But this is that first step we need to take.”

Story First Published: 2013-07-02