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Jim Tait 02/01-02/28/17

home : news : vilas county August 19, 2017

3/7/2017 7:29:00 AM
Tribal concerns committee rebrands
Ready to tackle drug issues in the community
Abbey McEnroe/Lakeland Times

The County/Tribal Concerns Committee met for the first time in months on March 2 to discuss how to combat drug use and addiction in Lac du Flambeau.
Abbey McEnroe/Lakeland Times

The County/Tribal Concerns Committee met for the first time in months on March 2 to discuss how to combat drug use and addiction in Lac du Flambeau.

Abbey McEnroe
Lakeland Times reporter

The County/Tribal Concerns Committee is officially back after an approximate five month hiatus. The committee has rebranded itself and now includes three new members and three representatives from the tribe. The prominent focus of the committee is the growing drug problem in the Tribe and Vilas County and how to prevent drug use and treat current addicts.

The committee was formed over 15 years ago as a way to establish a path of communication between Vilas County government and the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians.

The committee originally stopped meeting because of complaints that the committee only discussed problems instead of acting to solve them.

"The county officers were a little concerned we were not doing a lot of stuff ... all we did was talk about it," chairperson Al Bauman stated.

Other concerns involved the lack of representation of Tribal members.

The new committee appeared passionate about preventing and treating drug use in the area and seems prepared to take action.

The main theme surrounding the drug epidemic is that addiction can not be cured without treatment.

"The one thing I have learned is that no addiction was ever cured by punishment," committee member Robert Hanson expressed. "We could lock up every addict in town, and every addict in the county, and every addict in the state and all we do is round up a big bill because when you release them they're still addicts."

Vice-chair George Thompson agreed saying, "Most people tend to forget that alcoholism and drug use can be a part of something greater psychologically."

Thompson went on to say there needs to be resources available to tie people into that to help them become and stay sober.

According to a report from Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse states if someone is dependent on drugs or alcohol after the age of 21 they have a one in 25 chance of remaining addicted for life and those whose addictions begin before the 18 have a staggering one in four chance of developing a lifelong dependency.

"I think it's important to have the school systems involved because they're the ones that see these little kids when they come to school," committee member Betty Jo Graveen stated.

Thompson agreed and said it was important to take care of the problem at hand with current drug addiction but also work on prevention adding, "If there's a problem, try to help them, before we create another generation of potential users."

Thompson expressed that treatment is important but what happens after treatment is often an indicator of whether or not addicts will relapse.

"You send them to a treatment center, you court order them to a treatment center, you're telling them to come back out and you're throwing them in the lion's den. How are you expecting a person to do that? The other thing that comes with it is employment opportunities, you have to give people hope after the fact ... when they can't succeed they're drug right back down."

Looking at the drug abuse rampaging the community and users in and out of rehabilitation is only looking at the tip of the iceberg. Drug abuse stems from unemployment, poverty, family violence, education, and more.

According to the Medical College of Wisconsin, specifically the HCAT behavioral health project, Lac du Flambeau's poverty rate is 21 percent compared to 15.1 percent nationally and the unemployment rate is 45 percent.

HCAT behavioral health project states "62 percent of Lac du Flambeau residents believe that participating in traditional cultural practices is necessary for healing and protection against substance abuse; historic and generational trauma produces symptoms of grief and loss, lowered identity formation and role confusion, increasing vulnerability to abuse alcohol."

HCAT also states that alcohol is the most commonly used and abused substance and that 37 percent of adult females and 41 percent of adult males aged 18-44 engage in excessive binge drinking in Lac du Flambeau. This is compared to 20 percent in Vilas County and 23 percent in Wisconsin for all races.

Lowering these statistics involve both community and agency involvement.

"We could have a law enforcement plan, we can have a treatment plan ... but they all need to be coordinated," Hanson stated.

"When we're able to get everyone at the table, that's going to be more powerful than what we got now," Thompson responded.

However, Thompson went on to say you can not force community members and entities to be involved or they will shut down, the committee must ensure their voice is going to be heard.

To ensure the committee does not come to a halt as it did in August of 2016 Thompson suggested creating benchmarks to track progress.

"I would like to see benchmarks be set so that we know we're achieving things over a certain timeline and its not just becoming discussion after discussion."

The discussion ended by setting a date for a small group of people from the Tribal Concerns Committee and the Vilas County Public Health board to meet at 9:30 a.m.on March 30.

"We can't just talk big and not do anything about it," Thompson ended with.

Abbey McEnroe may be reached via email at amcenroe@lakelandtimes.com.

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