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Community input, help wanted to fight heroin and other drug problems

Members of the Drug Abuse Task Force have been pondering the fairly rampant problem of drug abuse in Carlton County for a long time and they’ve concluded that getting the community involved is a critical part of any response.

As such, community members of all ages are invited to to participate in the Carlton County Opioid and Heroin Community Forum on Monday, Oct. 5, at the Cloquet Forestry Center, 175 University Road. A free meal starts at 5 p.m. with a panel discussion beginning at 6 p.m. followed by a more general discussion.

“I think [involving the community] is the only solution,” said task force member Laura Palombi. “Because it’s not just a law enforcement issue. It’s not just a public health issue. It’s everybody’s issue.

“Nobody ever thinks it’s gonna be them or their family member, but it can happen.”.

Families with young children are also encouraged to attend (and take advantage of the free babysitting) during the Oct. 5 meetin. Palombi said she would love to see teenagers at the forum too, pointing out that more kids now smoke marijuana than smoke cigarettes.

“We know [drugs are] in the schools,” she said. “I think having young people buy-in can be even more powerful.”

The statistics are startling.

According to Sixth Judicial District Drug Court Coordinator Theresa Bobula, Carlton County has the drug and alcohol offender numbers of a county three times its size.

The public defenders here have the highest caseload in the Sixth Judicial District and at one point had the highest caseload in the state.

In addition, Bobula said, the county has seen a rise in methadone abuse cases and a spike in heroin abuse. The situation has put a strain on the county and its criminal justice system and has led to the issue of jail overcrowding as well.

In Minnesota, the number of drug overdose deaths has now surpassed the number of traffic deaths.

Palombi said lot of drugs come right from Mexico up I-35, but a huge number of people who end up taking heroin start by taking prescription painkillers, often prescribed by their doctor for a genuine health need. The painkillers are highly addictive. Once the people can’t get the drugs from their doctor anymore

“We know that 80 percent of heroin users started with prescription opioids, like OxyContin and Hydrocodone” Palombi said..

She points to a map of Minnesota, with different colors showing how many prescription painkillers are sold in Minnesota, as measured in grams per 10,000 people. Carlton County and St. Louis County both show in deep red, the color indicating the highest use. Aside from a smallish dot near the Twin Cities, this part of northern Minnesota has the largest number: 3,301 grams or more per 10,000 people.

“We’re in the hotspot,” Palombi said.

Mental health issues also play into drug abuse, said Palombi.

“The drug abuse struggles we have in Carlton County are very closely related to mental health struggles,” she said. “There is a shortage of treatment facilities and not enough resources in northern Minnesota for mental health and substance abuse.”

If you go

What: Carlton County Opioid and Heroin Community Forum

When: Monday, Oct. 5.

Free meal at 5 p.m.

Panelists and discussion starts at 6 p.m.

Where: Cloquet Forestry Center, 175 University Road, Cloquet

Free childcare provided. Contact Laura Palombi at 218-726-6066 to RSVP (not necessary but appreciated) or for more information.