The following article was written by Jana Blomberg and Jeff Polcher of St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services. It was originally published in the Hibbing Tribune on August 23, 2017.
We have a drug problem – in our county and in our country. We don’t think that bit of news comes as a surprise to anyone. It’s also become clear that this problem isn’t going away, and isn’t something we can arrest our way out of. That’s why we are putting significant effort in tackling the problem from other angles.
Prevention programming is one piece of the puzzle in reducing substance use and abuse. When evidence-based substance use prevention programs are effectively implemented within schools and the community, the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs can be reduced. Such programs offer teachers and professionals the opportunity to have a positive impact on youth’s perception about the risks surrounding substance use.
According to the 2016 Minnesota Student Survey, 10 percent of Hibbing 11th graders believe their friends feel it is not at all wrong or is a little bit wrong for them to use prescription drugs not prescribed to them. However, 63 percent believe people are at great risk of harming themselves physically or in other ways if they use prescription drugs not prescribed for them. In addition, 84 percent feel their parents would find it very wrong for the student to use prescription drugs not prescribed to them. These statistics show that while many social and cultural factors can affect substance use trends, when youth perceive drug use as harmful, the reduction in use for youth can be considerable.
St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services is working to address the opioid issues in Northern St. Louis County. We have a Substance Abuse Prevention and Intervention Initiative (SAPII) Team comprised of three Social Workers and one Public Health Educator. The SAPII team serves as a resource within St. Louis County, providing community education, outreach, professional development training, and consultation services. Our group also facilities the North and South OARS (Opioid Abuse Response Strategies) Workgroups, which bring together a variety of community organizations to work together to address barriers and issues surrounding the opioid crisis that our communities face.
A significant focus of the SAPII program is community education, to make people aware of what is being done to prevent and help those affected by a substance use disorder.
Last month, we invited residents of Hibbing and the surrounding area to a community forum on the effects of these drugs, and what was being done to alleviate this problem. Those in attendance had the opportunity to hear from a panel of professionals representing law enforcement, the courts, treatment providers and a young woman in recovery. Presenters spoke on how the current epidemic is affecting our region. The increase in the number of children in foster care to the growing number of people incarcerated is having a huge impact on our county.
Judge Gary Pagliacetti spoke at length about the success of the Iron Range Drug Court, an innovative and intense program that allows individuals who have been arrested on drug charges to participate in treatment while remaining in the community. Successful completion of drug court can result in the dismissal of pending criminal charges.
Attendees were able to visit with local counseling and treatment providers. We are fortunate to have numerous quality counseling and treatment facilities in Northern Minnesota that provide many different options for those seeking help.
We are already working to organize several more community forums in northern St. Louis County, including a forum in Ely in early October. Other forums will also be held in Virginia and possibly Cook.
There isn’t a single solution to this epidemic. But by educating the community and working closely with community partners – including the School District, the Hibbing Chemical Health Advisory Committee (HCHAC) and a host of local agencies, we can find solutions that work. We can save lives, help people beat their addictions and avoid even starting on the path of substance abuse.
Jeff Polcher and Jana Blomberg are both part of the St. Louis County Substance Abuse Prevention and Intervention Initiative (SAPII) team.