Area community leaders, health professionals and members of law enforcement understand the problem of prescription drug abuse and the use of illegal narcotics is growing.
They all also know they can’t find solutions to the issues alone.
The Lakeland Area Prescription Drug Task Force held its latest meeting Monday and those in attendance agreed a community-wide effort that includes communication, funding and cooperation is what’s needed to combat the Northwoods’ increasing number of users and suppliers.
At earlier meetings the group agreed on 12 action steps members will work toward completing which could help address the issue
One of the steps includes gaining a better understanding of methadone clinics and the use of methadone in the area.
According to Bob Kovar, prevention specialist with the Center for Community Outreach at the Marshfield Clinic, many times people who are in a program to get them off improperly-used prescription drugs or illegal drugs may enter treatment programs, but violate program restrictions which forces them to be expelled.
“When people refuse to follow their restrictions and leave the program they look for methadone and other medications, including pain medication, through other sources,” Kovar said. “Some have been known to deliberately injure themselves to gain the medications. Some even go outside the area to gain their pain meds.”
According to Dr. Mike Larson, a pain psychologist with the Marshfield Clinic, “increasing communication and coordination with other providers to understand the status of a patient’s pain medication is one step in trying to prevent drugs being provided to individuals who are abusing them.”
“We don’t want to bail these people out when they are noncompliant,” Larson said.
Lac du Flambeau Tribal President Tom Maulson and vice president Brooks BigJohn expressed their frustration about new illegal drugs that are being introduced on a regular basis and known suppliers of illegal drugs and illegally-obtained prescription drugs are not being shut down nor face criminal charges.
“We are facing the failure of not being able to move our children forward in the community because of these problems,” Maulson said. “We can see more and more parents in our community are drugged up and its beginning to show in our children.”
There was some good news as far as a decline in the number of people being prescribed pain medication at the Peter Christensen Health Care Center in Lac du Flambeau. Members of the committee were told the facility is prescribing far fewer pain medications now than it did in the past. Members of the task force were told the center has seen a 30 percent drop in the number of pain medications being prescribed.
“We are dealing with people who can be very creative and many times have a lot of time on their hands so they are always thinking of other ways to get their drugs,” Larson said. “We have to eliminate their desire.”
Maulson and BigJohn indicated the tribe is virtually crying out for help in trying to drastically reduce its drug problem on the reservation and among tribal members.
“People need to step up to the plate and when they know of people who are selling the drugs they need to report that information to authorities instead of many times saying nothing,” Maulson said.
Rewards for drug tips
Maulson even suggested many people are so desperate to solve the drug problem that maybe various local governments and law enforcement agencies could offer substantial rewards for information about those who are supplying the drugs.
Task force members suggested the tribe and other governments attempt to work more with the Wisconsin Department of Justice for assistance and grant money to help fight the drug problem.
“Maybe we start putting more money on the table to catch the drug overlords,” Maulson said.
Maulson and BigJohn also told the task force the tribe, along with some other local governments, are working hard to start a “wellness or drug court” that would work to help get offenders off of drugs instead of just sending them to jail or prison.
A drug investigator for the Oneida County Sheriff’s Department also attended Monday’s task force meeting. The Lakeland Times is not revealing that person’s name so they can continue to work secretly undercover on drug-related investigations.
“It’s very disheartening,” the investigator said. “That I am the only person from law enforcement who is at this meeting today.”
The investigator said local courts need to get tougher on those who commit drug crimes.
“In many cases the judges will only give the offenders who are the users light sentences,” the investigator said. “They will only give the stiff sentences to the higher up offenders.”
The investigator also suggested that law enforcement should investigate all deaths due to drug overdoses as a homicide.
“We need to punish these people more severely. They provide the drugs that people overdose with,” the investigator said.
The other initiatives the drug task force is working on includes:
• Pharmacy initiative. Work to increase collaboration between regional pharmacies to identify best practices regarding safe dispensing of controlled substances.
• Case management. Work to build support to examine potential and capacity for involving treatment partners in case management model for patients.
• Pharmacological alternatives. Assess and promote local/regional alternatives to pharmacological pain management.
• Justice system diversion and alternatives. Need to identify and develop alternatives to criminalizing addiction to stop the cycle.
• Law enforcement awareness training. Improve and enhance communication between law enforcement, pharmacies and area providers.
• Dental clinics. Dentists and orthodontists are key stakeholders as providers of pain medications in our community and they need to be at the table.
• Health care providers. Develop interagency policies and guidelines that ensure patients regionally are facing similar policies from one health care organization to the next.
• Good Samaritan law. Investigate the readiness for local/regional Good Samaritan law to protect people who bring overdosing friends for medical care.
• Safe disposal. Work with county, tribal, DNR and coalition officials to secure funding for permit for local incinerator and with local coalitions to build safe disposal awareness campaign.
Joe VanDeLaarschot may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.