New program takes proactive approach to preventing meth use by Panhandle teens

Holmes County Sheriff John Tate and Washington County Sheriff Kevin Crews are part of a collaborative effort by Panhandle law enforcement leaders to take a more proactive stance on preventing the use of methamphetamine by teenagers.

It’s a hard-hitting series of 30-second videos, where former meth addicts, their necks heavily tattooed,  speak directly about the ravages of methamphetamine.

“It ruined my life, cost me my family, took my freedom,” it repeats in bold lettering across the screen

Another is a candid talk with parents, a coach and a teacher, and a best friend, all anguished at the change they have seen in a young person they know and love.

“I feel like my hands are tied,” says the teacher.

“I don’t know how to fix this,” says the mom.

The videos are just one part of SMART: Stopping Methamphetamine Among Our Teens, a newly created project that aims to prevent methamphetamine use among rural teens in Holmes, Washington, Calhoun, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, and Taylor counties.

One year after Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith spearheaded creation of a Panhandle-wide meth task force, he hosted a news conference April 7 unveiling the task force’s latest project.

In addition to Tate, Crews, and Smith, other rural sheriffs on hand were Calhoun County Sheriff Glenn Kimbrel; Jefferson County Sheriff Mac McNeill; Liberty County Sheriff Buddy Money and Taylor County Sheriff Wayne Padgett.

The sheriffs were joined by the heads of the two sponsoring agencies, John Wilson, CEO of Disc Village;and Mike Watkins, CEO of Northwest Florida Health Network. Also offering remarks was Franklin County Superintendent Steve Lanier.

The NWF Health Network, a private entity that funnels federal and state dollars to behavioral health services in North Florida that encompass mental health care and substance abuse prevention and treatment, partnered with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office as well as DISC Village to create the project.

The purpose of SMART is to reach out to teens on how and why to stay meth-free, as well as to adults with information on resources available if they suspect a teen in their life is at risk of trying meth. 

Experts in the field say that while rates of meth use have dropped nationwide over the last decade, they have increased dramatically in rural communities.

“A lot of times when you arrest someone, they have children, children who live in that environment,” said Sheriff Tate. “And a lot of times children fall into that same path as their parents. So we want to get into that school and try to prevent them from going down that road.

“Also in school there’s a lot of peer pressure from other students,” he said. “We want to teach the kids that this is what drugs will get you, this is what trying meth for the first time will get you. Don’t make that choice, make good choices.”

Sheriff Crews said he sees the program as an enhancement to the DARE program now addressing fifth-graders in the county schools.

“It’s just developing another program to try to start earlier than what we’re doing,” he said. “We can’t arrest our way out of this problem, no agency can, we can’t do it. It’s just another avenue for us to take now to try to curb the problem before it ever gets started.

“If we can do that, and we know we’re not going to win them all, but if we can win a percentage of those people, then what we’re doing is working and working in the right direction,” said Crews.

“We’ve never seen drugs in this country like we see them now and my opinion is it is in direct relation to opening up those southwest borders,” he said. “So it’s coming in pretty freely. And it’s now for all of us to deal with, not just law enforcement, but our school system. And all the families, it’s not just that person who becomes addicted. But it’s that person’s entire family that it affects.”

NWF Health CEO Mike Watkins said that after the project was initially conceived during a conversation with Smith, NWF Health brought together leaders and experts from across North Florida to develop an evidence-based, comprehensive solution to methamphetamine use among teens and young adults. 

“Throughout my tenure as sheriff of Franklin County, my deputies and I have worked tirelessly to make our community safer by getting methamphetamine off our streets and rehabilitating those addicted to the drug so that they can become healthy, productive members of our community,” said Smith. “We provide support in the jail, but I would much prefer these young folks never try methamphetamine and end up in my jail in the first place.”

Providing drug prevention resources and support for the project is DISC Village, a private non-profit which provides a full continuum of behavioral health services in North Florida. 

“We are grateful for the opportunity to participate in the SMART project with NWF Health,” said DISC Village CEO John Wilson. “Our highly-trained and skilled staff is ready to provide whatever support is needed to support these communities in preventing methamphetamine use among teens.”

To learn more about the program, visit, or call 1-833-END METH (363-6384)