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Community roundtable seeks innovative solutions to county drug problems

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Crow Wing County Community Services director Kara Terry (right) jots down suggestions from attendees at a two-hour community roundtable presented by the Crow Wing County Drug Coalition in the cafeteria at Brainerd High School on Tuesday, June 11, about the increasing drug problem in the county. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch 2 / 2

Concerned community members literally threw up ideas on Brainerd High School cafeteria walls in an effort to see what sticks regarding new ways to tackle Crow Wing County's drug problem.

County officials invited the public to attend a community roundtable Tuesday, June 11, presented by the Crow Wing County Drug Coalition. The two-hour event sought input and involvement from the more than 60 people who attended and were divided into groups.

"When we were building our model or idea behind this ... what we're looking for is really that idea of new ideas and what can come out of this from a community angle, and what's the community's expectations," Sheriff Scott Goddard said before the roundtable began.

"We know we're never going to arrest our way out of this ... but we have to have an exit plan, so these people can come back into society and an educational aspect of how we can prevent it in the future because we've got second and even third generations of people using drugs."

Eight topical stations were set up in the cafeteria with poster-sized sheets of blank paper taped to the walls. Group facilitators would jot down expressed thoughts and then groups rotated.

"We know there are more stakeholders out there, and this is kind of that idea: Who can we bring in as partners that we know are out there, but we just haven't had contact with them yet—organizations, groups that can work with us," Goddard said.

Meth seized in the state last year set a record high, according to sheriff's office Lt. Andy Galles. The Minnesota Violent Crime Enforcement Teams seized 87 pounds in 2008 compared to the 625 pounds in 2017.

"The methamphetamine problem is overtaking us—not just Minnesota but the country," Galles told the crowd.

The five-year county trends for the number of people arrested or charged for drug-related offenses, the amount of grams of meth seized, the number of search warrants executed and the number of cases worked were all on the rise since 2014.

"These aren't just numbers. These are people who are affected, right? There's dollars, there's your government involved, there's families, there's all kinds of different people who are stakeholders in this," Galles told the discussions groups.

Crow Wing County commissioners Steve Barrows and Bill Brekken; County Administrator Tim Houle; and County Attorney Don Ryan—along with state Reps. Dale Lueck and Josh Heintzeman and those from Bridges of Hope, a faith-based nonprofit, and Sober Squad, a support group—were just some at the roundtable.

"The substance used as reported by those entering treatment—in 2016, we had methamphetamine surpass alcohol," county Community Services Programs Manager Tami Lueck said. "Our largest population of those going into treatment is 25- to 34-year-olds."

More than 80% of those in prison and jail are incarcerated because of crimes related to drugs and/or alcohol, according to Galles.

"Having a background in narcotics investigations myself for many years and now overseeing that division within law enforcement in Crow Wing County, we're frustrated because we're seeing the same people over and over again," Galles said.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of deaths due to overdose has been on the rise since 2002, from more than 20,000 to more than 50,000 in 2015.

There were 32 opioid-related deaths and three heroin-related deaths in the county from 2000 to 2015, according to Minnesota Department of Health's Minnesota Center for Health Statistics.

"Because everyone can see know how destructive drugs really are to our society and our community, we really have that momentum going forward and we want to use that," Goddard said.

In the county in 2015, there were 126 arrests for marijuana, seven arrests for opium or cocaine, four arrests for synthetic drugs and 145 arrests for other drugs, including methamphetamine, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

The eight brainstorming stations along the cafeteria walls focused on prevention or health promotion, early intervention, treatment, and recovery or ongoing support for adults and youths.

"At the very end of the roundtable, we're going to set some priorities for this group to kind of move forward—that new idea or new initiative that we should be looking at. ... We do plan to have a follow-up meeting end of September, beginning of October," Tami Lueck said on a break.

Eighty drug-related search warrants were executed last year countywide, and more than 200 cases were worked by the sheriff's office, resulting in almost $54,000 cash seized by the county.

"We're going to still have a very strong and very supported goal of arresting those that are doing and selling drugs in Crow Wing County ... but we're really looking for new ideas. The old saying is you've got to do something; we know we've got to do something," Goddard said.

The average number of children last year in the county in out-of-home placement per month was about 180, and the expenditures for out-of-home placement rose from about $2.5 million in 2014 to almost $5.5 million last year in correlation with parental meth use.

"Any idea, any idea that you can come up with tonight ... we'll take it. It might be that 'a-ha moment' that we're looking for, so, please, anything that's on your mind, please share. Thank you," Goddard told the crowd.

Galles added, "We've got to figure out a different way of doing this. This is a common theme that you're going to hear tonight. What we are doing isn't working. What can we do to do this better, OK?"

Frank Lee

Voted most likely in high school ... "not to be voted most likely for anything," my irreverent humor (and blatant disregard for the Oxford comma) is only surpassed by a flair for producing online videos to accompany unbiased articles about Crow Wing County about, say, how your taxes are being spent, by your elected officials, on issues or topics that matter to YOU.

Writing local feature stories about interesting people in the community, however, and watching and discussing movies are among my passions. ... Follow me on Twitter at either of these accounts: @DispatchFL (for news) or @BDfilmforum (for movies).

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