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Vilas County board hears drug endangered children presentation

October 01, 2019 by Delaney FitzPatrick

Representatives from the Human Service Center and Vilas County Youth Coalition presented “Drug Endangered Children” during the Sept. 24 meeting of the Vilas County board. 

Afterward, board members were invited to view a related documentary as well as explore an interactive exhibit.

A community-wide problem

Roberta Marcus and Heather Michaelson appeared before the board to discuss their multi-faceted responsibilities as counselors for The Human Service Center. Marcus serves as a substance abuse counselor for adolescents to adults and works with the court system, probation officers and social services in Forest, Vilas, and Oneida counties. Meanwhile, Michaelson works in the Behavioral Health Department, providing Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (AODA) counseling as well as mental health counseling.

The road from addiction to sobriety is a difficult one and Marcus made it clear that counseling is critical in ensuring people not only get healthy, but stay healthy. 

“Getting clean and sober is long term work,” she said. “It takes a few years to get to a good place.”

According to Marcus, the rise in opioid and heroin abuse in Wisconsin has reached a critical point. 

“It’s not getting better. It’s been a problem for 30 years,” Marcus said. “It’s continuing to get worse and maybe it’s becoming more noticeable.” 

Michaelson said it’s crucial to remember the drug crisis affects more than just those actively using, explaining that people, especially children, can experience trauma as the result of a loved one having an addiction. Many of her clients, 12 years old and younger, are neglected by a drug-addicted parent. 

What’s worse is that some of her child clients are users of drugs or alcohol themselves. She revealed that her youngest client started drinking alcohol at age 6. 

“It was normal. It was a family tradition,” she said. “They didn’t realize it was going to be something that killed them.”

Marcus and Michaelson both urged the answer to the crisis lies within the community, but there is a constant shortage of funding and counselors for local drug abuse treatment. Michaelson said the need in the Northwoods is great, projecting that 230 Vilas County residents would use The Human Service Center’s AODA services in 2019. 

“That’s a significant number of people,” she said. 

These statistics and the counselor’s personal stories made it quite clear the alarming national drug crisis is hitting close to home.

One local story

After the meeting, board members were invited to join the public for a viewing of “Written Off,” a documentary about Matt Edwards, a young man from Eagle River who developed an addiction to opioids as a teenager. Edwards received little treatment, eventually dying of an overdose at the age of 25. 

The film chronicles Matt’s downward spiral into addiction and depression through his fastidious journal entries. It is another important reminder that the opioid epidemic directly impacts the Northwoods.

‘Hidden in Plain Sight’

In addition to the screening, the Vilas County Youth Coalition and UW-Extension set up an interactive exhibit called, “Hidden in Plain Sight.” The exhibit invited people into a mock set-up of a teenager’s bedroom to explore the unexpected ways today’s teenagers may be hiding their drug use. 

Lori Bergum and Sharon Krause demonstrated a full walkthrough of the exhibit, explaining how substances can be hidden in everyday items like Sharpies, deodorant tubes, as well as specific items such as Honey Pockets, which are small silicone pockets that can hide odor.

Much of the exhibit focused on maijuana use, which the CDC reports about half of 9-12 graders have tried. The two spokeswomen offered insight about what parents should keep an eye out for regarding drug paraphernalia like the “420” code or maijuana leaves on clothing.

Bergum and Krause explained many teens have joined the vaping bandwagon, which has made national news recently as data has begun to surface regarding its health risks. 

Bergum explained that even though the smoking age is 18, it’s very easy for underage kids to get their hands on vaping pens and pods. 

“What’s happening is 18 year olds are buying the vaping stuff and then selling it at a profit to younger kids,” Bergum said. “Also younger kids will buy gift cards at Walgreens or Target or Walmart and they use the Visa card to buy stuff online.” 

Krause, who works with the Vilas County Teen Court, said 90% of the current cases she sees are vaping-related.

Whether it be counseling or awareness, it’s evident Vilas County has work to do in informing citizens about resources available to the community. 

As Michaelson explained to the county board, “Addiction is a family disease” and last week’s “Drug Endangered Children” presentation was a powerful and necessary reminder.

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