Coalition forming to conquer Crawford County area addiction issues

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By Correne Martin

Whether or not you have been affected by addiction, it’s still your problem. Substance abuse is a community problem. 

That’s according to behavioral and mental health therapists and professionals from the Crossing Rivers, Gundersen, Mayo Clinic and Crawford County health systems who gathered at the Responding to Addiction Town Hall April 10, at the Prairie du Chien City Hall. About 30 area citizens attended, including recovering addicts and their families as well as stakeholders in local law enforcement, justice, corrections, probation and parole, school, etc. 

“We need to build a community that’s resilient instead of vulnerable. Some individuals are resilient but others are fragile, and my job is to help them bounce back and build that resilience,” stated Kevin Schmidt, Crossing Rivers Health therapist. “What do we control about [addiction]? What are the next steps we, as a community, can do to make it more real in terms of alcohol and drug issues and treatment and recovery?”

It was no secret at the town hall that Crawford County has a narcotics problem and, although alcohol’s impacts haven’t been as obvious in recent years, it was clear they also remain strong. 

The town hall meeting was the second on the topic. The first involved simple discussion of the “who, what and where” of the problem. But the intent of the follow-up meeting was to determine action. 

So how can the county begin to control these issues? Regardless of personal stakes in the game, how can the community become more aware, more concerned, more helpful and more supportive of those being treated and recovering?

A multi-faceted approach is needed in order to make headway in these areas, so meetings will continue. This band of concerned citizens is likely to become a coalition. Judge Lynn Rider, one of the facilitators, thought meetings might be every six weeks or so, at an undetermined location. 

One long term goal that came from last week’s discussion is for a drop-in center to be established in the county—offering a safe, supportive and normalizing environment for addicts of all stages in the community, especially those who are isolated, rejected from other programs and struggling to fulfill their own needs. One Prairie du Chien business has available space it might be willing to lease, though the process from potential to reality is detailed. Rider said the possibility would be explored. Other locations were suggested as well. 

Candidate for 96th Assembly Alicia Leinberger (D-Viroqua), said the Other Door in Viroqua is a nearby example of a drop-in center that’s housed alongside other businesses. She said their budget is around $40,000 a year. A Facebook page and possible crowdfunding page, along with pursuance of grant funding, donations, fundraising events and maybe volunteers were some of the suggestions made toward securing the dollars needed to lease, set up, maintain, staff and manage a space. 

As part of the action plan, six committees emerged from the meeting: fundraising, events, social media, solicitation, education and political action. 

To reach the long term goals of opening a drop-in center and becoming a resilient community, the group agreed more resources are needed than the county health care and funds already provide. 

“Is the community willing to learn? We need to educate them on [what help is available],” Schmidt said. “I’d like to see our businesses get behind these types of services, which would help reduce the stigma.”

A 20-month recovering addict, Daniel, shared that he’s active in Alcoholics Anonymous in Prairie du Chien. “But, unfortunately, it’s the only addict group. I’m working on a [Narcotics Anonymous] group,” he said. 

Daniel said he’d like to see more variety of groups and recovery meetings, like SMART (self management and recovery training) meetings, different times for the meetings and more active groups within the younger community.

He added that family members of addicts must not be left behind when considering support either. 

“They need to get out there and socialize as a group,” he said. “We also need more organized functions for the younger crowd.”

Right now, Daniel noted, churches are the only sector that provides meeting spaces for AA or NA. Sadly, having to go to a church for gatherings could be the reason someone refrains from attending, he added. 

Also providing insight last week was Dan McWilliams, Crawford County Health and Human Services director. 

“Opioid use is on Wisconsin’s priority list. How do we work together for our future?” McWilliams posed. 

Currently, Crawford county has a $4.5 million budget each year, of which just $600,000 is put toward prevention services. Resources are available for people who don’t have insurance and who have Medicaid. Crawford County staff, like their counterparts at local health care systems, provide outpatient prescriber and therapy, telehealth psychiatrist, mental health, some alcohol and drug, and crisis services. They also provide case management. 

“Crisis services, in terms of suicidal or homicidal individuals, is about trying to get them to the right service so they don’t have another crisis and get into recovery,” McWilliams declared. “We’re considering starting an (official) AODA program in the county, but that will be with within the funding we already have. We’re close to having permission to do that.”

McWilliams continued, “Prevention services start with the kids. We need to help them have other options so they don’t have the same issues as their parents.”

Scott, a local teacher and recovering alcoholic himself, concurred: “These kids have Narcan (an emergency treatment for narcotic overdose) and they know how to use it in case Mom or Dad goes down. It scares me.”

Ultimately, substances are A problem. But they are not THE problem. 

Gundersen alcohol and drug counselor Mark Taylor said, “THE problems are the things we need to look at, like the political and economic system that doesn’t give a crap about addicts and alcoholics.”

At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, participants chose the committee(s) they wished to join to begin planning, educating, soliciting, creating awareness and fundraising. These efforts are being coordinated and will soon start making heir way around Crawford County communities. Watch for more details about the name of the coalition. 

If you’d like to attend meetings, join the coalition, sign up for a committee and/or provide donations or resources, contact Crawford County Circuit Court office at 326-0205. 

This meeting was again a collaborative effort of the Crawford County Courts, Crawford County Health & Human Services, Crossing Rivers Health, Gundersen Health System and Mayo Clinic Health System. 

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