Forum Looks at Opioid Epidemic from Community Perspective

Baihly Warfield
Updated: March 19, 2018 10:22 PM

CULVER, Minn. - As President Donald Trump calls for higher penalties for drug dealers, some Northland folks looked at the issue from a local perspective. 

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"I think that the more we hear about this in the news and the epidemic, the scarier it is," Kristi Berlin said. "Then you hear of situations where it's happening close to home, and we need to be more aware because it is scary, and it is affecting our kids and our friends. So I'm here to learn more about it."

Berlin was one of dozens who came out to the South Ridge school for an opioid forum Monday night. 

"It's a small community. We don't really have a town in this area," Berlin said. "So to see people coming from all of our fire departments and our paramedics and the community and school and parents is very exciting."

Lt. Jeff Kazel with the Duluth Police Department had a common sense message.

"The more access that's out in the public, the more possibility you have somebody that could abuse an opioid," Kazel said. 

He told people the first line of defense is in their own homes. 

"If you looked in your medicine cabinet today, and you had pills left over from your surgery from two years ago, probably a good time to get rid of them," he said. 

The addiction that often starts with something common ends up tearing families apart. 

"Right now, in St. Louis County alone, we have over 800 kids in foster care," St. Louis County Social Worker Jeff Polcher said. "The majority of those are drug-related, where the parents are using and exposing their kids to dangerous situations."

Even if it doesn't seem to directly affect you, it likely has an indirect effect, Polcher said. 

"It's millions and millions of dollars every year of taxpayer money that goes towards foster care and treatment and all the other stuff associated with it. It's a very, very expensive epidemic," Polcher said. 

It's an epidemic that needs to be attacked from both ends -- prevention and treatment. 

"We want to make sure that the younger kids are educated well because ... you wouldn't want your 12- or 13-year-old kid to get hurt at a baseball game, end up getting surgery, get prescribed opioids and then something happened," Kazel said. "That's possible."

Berlin said she was there to learn more about what she and others can do. 

"What are we looking for? How can we come together? How can we support people?" Berlin asked. "If we see areas of need or if we see things we're worried about, how can we come together as a community?"

There was also training on how to use naloxone or Narcan, the opioid overdose reversal drug. Everyone over 18 who stayed to the end of the forum took a naloxone kit home. 


Baihly Warfield

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