Operation Our Town had a great year in 2011, but the battle to rid the community of drugs continues, officials said Thursday.
"We have done a great job, and we can do better. We will never get to zero but we'll get to a manageable level we can control," said Operation Our Town President Michael Fiore at the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Club.
Founded in 2006, Operation Our Town is a partnership between businesses and the community aimed at taking neighborhoods back from drugs and violent crime through law enforcement as well as proven treatment and prevention techniques.
Reacting to the problems presented by Blizzard, a brand name for a now-illegal form of bath salts, was Operation Our Town's greatest accomplishment during the year, Regional Director Randy Feathers of the state Attorney General's Bureau of Narcotics Investigation said.
The influx of Blizzard, which was made illegal in August, led to an increase in Blair County drug overdoses and drug overdose deaths, which rose from 15 in 2010 to 27 in 2011.
Operation Our Town chipped in $16,000 to create a video about Blizzard that was shown to students in Blair County schools.
"I believe it did wonders. This drug was legal at the time; kids thought if it was legal, it was not lethal. The video made a dramatic difference," Feathers said. "The Blizzard problem is really under control."
"It came at the county like a hurricane. I am proud of how we have attacked it. The organization stepped up," Fiore said. "This is a never-ending battle; we have to be ready and prepared. As soon as we react, there is something else around the corner."
The problem with methamphetamine labs, which surfaced in 2010, is now under control, Feathers said.
"We put a bulk of the knuckleheads in jail," Feathers said.
Fiore said 45 businesses contributed $10,000 or more over the last six years, but more help is needed.
"It is important all businesses come on board. We need people to step up, not just with dollars. We have to be involved and be the leaders to maintain a good lifestyle in our community. If not, we will go back to the way things were seven or eight years ago, if we don't continue to fight," Fiore said.
With the support of Operation Our Town, the Neighborhood Watch program will be revitalized in 2012, Blair County Sheriff Mitchell Cooper said.
The Neighborhood Watch Program encourages people to be aware of their surroundings, neighbors to look out for neighbors and for people to report suspicious activity.
All Blair County police departments have agreed to participate in the program, which will officially kick off April 17, Cooper said.
"Neighborhood Watch does have an impact. When crime decreases apathy sets in, that is why we are stepping up to revitalize the program," Cooper said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.