I have worked in the field of prevention for over 10 years, have presented to youth groups and adults on everything from team building to family meals to the dangers of substance abuse, however, last week during a Prevention and Response Columbia County (PARCC) Meeting, I found myself speechless. I felt so amazed and proud to be a part of a group working so incredibly hard on the heroin epidemic in our county that I was without words. Over a year ago, this group set out on a mission to achieve a Medication Assisted Recovery Coordinator position and yesterday was the day we were going to talk about the fact we had a person in place to carry that position forward. Amazing. Wonderful. Life saving.
While I call Pardeeville home, I have had the pleasure to work in the Lodi community for the past five years and I consider it a second home. Lodi and the surrounding townships are amazing communities and embrace the concept of keeping our youth safe, happy and drug free. As Project Coordinator for the Lodi Community Action Team (LCAT), we have learned many things over the years. For example, sometimes well-meaning adults can have their own agenda when it comes to youth issues. Also, youth will more likely stay away from alcohol and other drugs when they feel cared for and respected by the adults in their community. We know that youth need a web of caring adults to navigate through middle school, high school and beyond. We know that substance abuse education is way more than a “Just Say No” Campaign. And the list goes on. LCAT has an extraordinary Advisory Board that serves the community well by ensuring that LCAT stays true to its mission of reducing youth substance abuse. About 16 months ago, City of Lodi Police Chief Klicko made a plea to the Advisory Board to do something about the heroin epidemic that is sweeping across Lodi. He stated the important realization that Lodi is not an island, so tackling the heroin epidemic was not just a local issue but a county-wide problem.
So, we put out a call for community partners and over 40 people attended the very first meeting in February of 2015. Attendees included those with first-hand knowledge of opiate addiction in their lives, the Department of Health and Human Services for Columbia and Sauk Counties, the Columbia County Sheriff’s Department, the Columbia County District Attorney’s Office, several police departments within Columbia County, the School District of Lodi, and more. The first goal became securing a Medicated Assisted Recovery Coordinator position. This person would have the task of being on the front lines with individuals who want to change their life and stop using heroin. This person would be a partner in the long road to recovery. The year began with county board meetings and conversations with leaders, family stories to stress the urgency and critical need for someone to help, and meeting after meeting to discuss what this all would really mean for Columbia County.
This brings me back to the beginning of this blog. I looked down at my PARCC Meeting agenda and thought to myself, “It has happened!” The Columbia County Department of Health and Human Services has hired someone to carry this torch forward and begin the first steps of working on a problem in our county that cannot be ignored.
So, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. We will savor this bite for a very short time, then roll up our sleeves and begin to work on the rest of the elephant. The rest of the elephant is more complicated and complex because it involves all of us realizing the part we play in the circus of substance abuse. No one wakes up one day and decides, “Well today is the day. Today I am trying heroin.” It is a broken road that has probably seen alcohol, marijuana, and often prescription drugs. As a society, we need to stop making excuses for underage alcohol use by saying, “It’s just what kids do.”
By living in Wisconsin, we need to own up to the fact that adult and youth alcohol consumption far exceeds alcohol consumption in other states. In 2012, 1,748 deaths in Wisconsin were attributed to excessive alcohol use. Alcohol is the most used drug by our youth today and most report they do not think alcohol is a gateway drug because it is legal. We also face a hurdle with many in our state thinking it is time to legalize marijuana. I can tell you that every person arrested for heroin use in our county reports using marijuana. I can tell you that the THC content of marijuana today is often found to be 40, 50, 60x the concentration of marijuana 20 years ago. I would recommend anyone who does not think it is dangerous visit the Impact Report on The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado at www.rmhidta.org and click on Reports. Ask yourself if that is what you want for our youth.
Most importantly, educate yourself on substance abuse and youth. Support county leaders who are working to make a difference for youth. Support your local law enforcement who work hard every day to protect kids and adults from the fall out of alcohol and other drug misuse. Opiate addiction is quite a sizeable elephant. However, communities working together can protect and embrace our families...one small bite at a time.
DON’T MISS the “Heroin in Our Hometown” presentation: Tuesday, May 3, 2016 from 6:00 to 8:00 PM at the Columbus Middle School. This is a FREE county-wide presentation open to all Columbia County residents 12 and older.
1) Lodi Community Action Team (LCAT) Community Team Meeting: Thursday, May 19th, 2016 at the Lodi District Office (115 School Street) from 4:30 to 6:30 PM
2) Prevention and Response Columbia County (PARCC) Meeting: Tuesday, May 24th, 2016 from 1:00 to 3:00 PM. Location TBD but will be in Lodi.