Chemical health has become a hot topic in the state with community forums taking place in the region to address drug abuse. Several officials from government agencies, schools and health care facilities came out to attend the monthly Pine County Chemical Health Coalition meeting on Monday, October 10, at the Hinckley-Finlayson High School board room. The coalition, led by Pine County Health and Human Services (HHS) Director Becky Foss, focused discussion on member reports, a recent Positive Community Norm Conference and an alcohol prevention grant.
Joe Newton, director of ambulance services in Sandstone for Essentia Health, reported an increase in ambulance use for drug related calls. He said in 2015 there were a total of 32 calls and they are now at 36 for 2016. Newton called this year’s numbers a fairly significant increase.
“We have seen more heavy duty drugs that have taken multiple doses of Narcan to get them breathing,” he stated. “It must be a stronger batch that hit the area.”
County Commissioner Matt Ludwig of Sandstone reported that emergency services and law enforcement are using the Narcan kits they were provided with in the beginning of the year. He added that the kits are expensive and is hoping the state will help with funding for the kits in the future.
Pine County Chief Deputy Paul Widenstrom referenced the double heroin overdose save that occurred two weeks ago near the Taco Bell in Hinckley. He added that there was another overdose last week where two doses of Narcan needed to be administered to get the overdosed individual breathing again.
County Attorney Reese Frederickson said that they have made good headway in the attorney’s office, specifically with drug dealers. He added that a drug dealer who has been operating under the radar in Pine County recently gave a guilty plea. He said that a new method of manufacturing methamphetamine called “one pot meth,” also called “shake and bake,” is surfacing in the county where users create a portable meth lab and can operate out of their backpacks.
Pine County Social Worker Bonnie Rediske stated that in past 30 days, five babies were born positive for drugs and that there are reports out of Hinckley in which youth are dealing drugs to 12 year olds. “The drugs are meth, marijuana and some youth are engaging in heroin dealing,” said Rediske. “This is very disturbing to us.”
She added that child protection intakes were at 80 this time last year and are now at 174 and are primarily due to illegal drug use. Foss stated that with the increased numbers in child protection, HHS will likely be authorized to hire another position in child protection.
FirstLight Pharmacy Director Brent Thompson stated there are many community forums happening in the region with large turnouts of people concerned about drug use. “This is a really big deal in communities,” he said. “They want answers and awareness.”
He added that he applied for grant money to host a forum in Kanabec and Pine counties. Foss stated there would likely be funding for such an event regardless of grant money.
Several members of the coalition attended a conference called the Positive Community Norm Conference. The staff reported being impacted by the message of focusing on the positives that are evident in student lives to help encourage more to do the same. East Central High School Principal Stefanie Youngberg said, “We have an amazing amount of kids that make amazing choices. It’s important to look to the positive side.”
Foss stated that grants up to $750 per school were available from HHS if the schools were interested in them. The grants would need to be used for alcohol prevention campaigns or programs by the end of the school year.
The next coalition meeting is on November 14 at 3 p.m. at the East Central School board room.