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11/13/2012 4:39:00 AM
Rising drug, alcohol abuse on reservation concerns LdF members
Recent incidents highlight lack of effort in addressing issues
Area task force tackling problem of prescription drug abuse
Study: Deaths due to drugs exceed number
who die in vehicle accidents

By Joe VanDeLaarschot
of The Lakeland Times

April 18, 2011: For the first time health care entities and law enforcement agencies across the Northwoods meet to address the growing problem of prescription drug misuse and diversion.

According to the 2009 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than seven million Americans abuse prescription drugs. Each day approximately 2,500 teens use prescription drugs to get high for the first time, according to the Partnership for a Drug Free America.

Taking part in the first-ever meeting of the Lakeland Area Community Drug Abuse Task Force were representatives of Aspirus Clinic, Marshfield Clinic, Ministry Health Care, Ministry Medical Group, the Peter Christensen Health Center, Premier Physical Medicine Security Health, law enforcement from Oneida and Vilas counties and Minocqua, Woodruff and Lac du Flambeau and the Wisconsin Department of Justice.


Statistics show increases

Statistics gathered by the Wisconsin Department of Justice show the greatest rise in the drug problem has been the misuse and diversion of drugs Oxycodone, Hydrocodone and other opiates.

“We each, independently, have seen this problem becoming more prevalent in the past years,” Bob Kovar said. He is the prevention specialist, Center for Community Outreach at the Marshfield Clinic. 

“From that point we can coordinate our efforts, communicate better and hope to stem the problem of prescription drugs being abused, misused or diverted to those who should not be using them.”

“One key is improving communication and developing ways to increase awareness between health care entities and law enforcement agencies of drug abuse and diversion,” Dorothy Chaney, program director, Center for Community Outreach at the Marshfield Clinic, said. “We must work to establish these links and network with all entities who are working on these issues.”


Disposal of old prescriptions

Since the initiation of the area group, they have sponsored and promoted several different events and activities which have included the National Pharmaceutical Drug Take Back Day. 

On a specific day many of the organizations set up drop-off locations for area residents for the disposal of old and unused medications.

“Studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including the home medicine cabinet,” Andy Gee, Minocqua police chief, said.

“Going forward we want the community to know that we are aware of this problem and are working to be part of the solution,” Michael Larson, Ph.D., said. He is a clinical psychologist with the Marshfield Clinic’s Minocqua Center for Pain Management.


More deaths from drugs than from auto accidents

To underscore the problems of drug abuse, those working to alleviate the problem cite data released in 2011 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The data shows that as of 2009, deaths due to drugs exceeded the number of deaths due to automobile accidents.

It was noted in the report that the increase was fueled by the jump in prescription drug overdoses. The data also showed that since the government started tracking drug-related deaths in 1979, 2009 was the first time that drug deaths outpaced deaths due to auto accidents.

One law enforcement official who heads a prescription drug-related crimes task force said in the report “people feel they are safer with prescription drugs because you get them from a pharmacy and they are prescribed by a doctor. Younger people believe they are safer because they see their parents taking them. It doesn’t have the same stigma as using street narcotics.”

All of these reports, the statistics and additional data illustrate the seriousness of the problem and the large effort that is needed in the Northwoods to tackle it. 

The Lakeland Area Community Drug Abuse Task Force hopes to help find the answers and work with other Northwoods entities to try to reverse the rising problem of drug abuse.

The task force is scheduled to hold its next meeting Monday, Nov. 19, starting at 9 a.m. in lower level conference rooms 2 and 3 at the Marshfield Clinic Minocqua Center.


Work, action plans

The group is expected to discuss progress on several work and action plans that were assigned at an earlier meeting, including:

• Methadone issue. Work to have opioid treatment better understood and more responsive to the local treatment community.

• 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 and 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 and regional Good Samaritan laws 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 jvandelaarschot@lakelandtimes.com.

It doesn’t matter what study you read, alcohol and drug abuse in the Native American community is at epidemic levels and are the leading cause of death among tribal youth.

The Lac du Flambeau Reservation is no different. 

The recent arrest of a tribal council member and the recent search of tribal offices using a drug-sniffing dog emphasize the seriousness of the problem.

New tribal council member Ruben Santiesteban was arrested last weekend on a drunk driving charge, former council member Joseph G. Wildcat has a record of drunk driving-related charges and longtime tribal council member Jerome “Brooks” BigJohn was recently sentenced on drunk driving-related charges.

According to Lac du Flambeau Tribal Chairman Tom Maulson, the tribe recently brought a drug-sniffing dog in to conduct a search of 40 tribal offices and two hits were made in one of the offices – the tribal enrollment office.

“Two employees refused to take a drug test and, according to tribal law, that refusal is grounds for termination,” Maulson said. “They were terminated, but seven members of the tribal council voted to rehire the two and they are now back on the job.”

Maulson said the tribal council action sets a bad example to other tribal members. He described the council’s vote to allow the two women to keep their jobs as “politics.”

“What does it say to other tribal members when two employees can go back on the job after refusing a drug test that tribal law says they must take and which calls for termination if they refuse?” Maulson asked.

Maulson said results of crime lab testing of the evidence found during the search is still being conducted, but he disagrees with allowing the two employees to go back to work.

“They could have allowed them to stay off the job until the evidence test results come back and if the results were negative they could have returned to work, but if the results are positive they could have remained terminated,” Maulson said. “Whoever works for the tribe is not above the law.”


Step up to the plate

Maulson said it’s time for tribal council members and tribal employees to “step up to the plate and be good examples for other tribal members.”

“When the tribal council takes the kind of actions they did in rehiring these people then the only thing that will really work to curb this problem is pressure from the community,” Maulson said.

After the recent drug search, members of the tribal council were ordered to have a hair follicle drug test completed. The test is supposed to be the most accurate in detecting the use of drugs and can show a history of drug use. The test is also very difficult, if not impossible, to falsify.

“Eight of the tribal council members have taken the hair follicle test,” Maulson said. “We need to have the tribal council do the right thing for all of the people.”

The problems of drug and alcohol abuse on the reservation are of great concern to tribal members Betty Jo Graveen and Lucy Wolfe.

“There is not one single family on this reservation that has not been affected by the problems due to drugs and alcohol,” Graveen said. “I can look back and think about all of the people that I know died due to drugs and alcohol.”

Wolfe agreed by saying the problems of drugs and alcohol on the reservation have touched too many people and tribal leaders must face the problem personally and lead by their example.

Graveen, who works for tribal commodities office, said the tribe is supposed to have a drug-free workplace and when she signs for federal grant money for many important tribal programs she must sign a number of statements concerning drug abuse.

“I fear that someday we won’t be able to meet the federal requirements because of the drug problem and lose these valuable programs,” Graveen said. “So the problem is impacting more than just the people who use alcohol and drugs – it’s affecting all of the tribe.”

Graveen also said it’s time for tribal leaders to step up to the plate and give more than lip service to fighting against the problems of drugs and alcohol.


Lead by example

“Our leadership needs to lead by example,” Graveen said. “What kind of an example is this when members of the tribal council are arrested due to alcohol abuse and the council returns two employees back to work despite their refusal to take a drug test, which according to tribal law, calls for their immediate termination.”

Graveen said it would have been better for the two tribal employees to take the drug test and fail rather than refusing to take the drug test.

“Because if they had failed the test they would have been referred to the employee assistance program for people who use drugs,” Graveen said. “What do we look like to the outside world when this is happening?”

Graveen also said the problem continues and is a generational issue – from one age group to the next.

“We’re in the cycle now where it’s hurting the second generation,” Graveen said. “Members of our leadership, members of our tribe need to stand up and say ‘no.’ This is our tribe’s future and we need to do something for our future generations.”


Studies confirm issue

Graveen’s statement is backed by a number of intensive studies on the impact of alcohol and drug abuse on Native Americans. Those studies state that “substance abuse also impacts young Native people disproportionately, and threatens the health, vitality and future productivity of the next generation of Indian leaders.”

According to recent research by Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research, in a study entitled “Drug Use Among Racial/Ethnic Minorities,” National Institute on Drug Abuse, (2003), “American Indian youth living on Reservations are at greater risk to be involved with alcohol and drugs at an early age and are more likely to drop out of school as a result than white, Hispanic and African American youth.

Joe VanDeLaarschot may be reached at jvandelaarschot@lakelandtimes.com.

Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Article comment by: Tribal Member

As an LDF tribal member myself, I am DISGUSTED by the way the Tribal Council handled these two workers, one of which is an EMT for the town of Lac du Flambeau, and the other being a known full blown drug addict. They used drugs with some of the current and most recent council members and enjoy having the safety of their jobs by doing so. Something needs to be done. The Lac du Flambeau drug use does not only effect the members but effects all of our surrounding communities.

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