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Our very own drug epidemic

It isn’t only Philadelphia that has a heroin problem. (See “America’s heroin epidemic” on this page.) All you have to do is read the local newspaper to see that we have a drug problem in Carlton County, and how the effects of drug addiction ripple out from the addict into society.

In this week’s paper, we have a story a lawsuit against a methadone clinic in Grand Rapids stemming from an accident caused by a Cloquet woman who was high on drugs she got from that clinic and injected before driving home on Highway 210. Before she got home, Vanessa Brigan crossed the centerline and caused the accident that killed county employees Zachary Gamache and Mitchell Lingren. Brigan is now in prison, and her children are growing up without their mom. Lingren’s children will never see their dad again and Gamache left behind a grieving family and fiance.

It’s awfully easy to assume that drug addiction will always be someone else’s problem, but it could be yours in moments. Maybe you or your loved one are hurt by someone driving drunk or high. Or perhaps your child says a thoughtless “yes” to a friend at a party, and your life (and theirs) comes crashing down.

It’s like one of our loyal readers said so aptly in an email after the Pine Journal’s five-part series on the drug problem in Carlton County last year: “No one wakes up in the morning as an adolescent kid and says: ‘Hey, I think I’m gonna be an addict and break the hearts of everyone I love.’”

But they do. Ask almost any recent high school graduate how many classmates they’ve lost due to drug addiction and related mental health issues. Too many, we can tell you.

It’s not just young people we need to worry about though. A lot of people are struggling with drug (or alcohol) addiction. They are all ages and come from all social classes, from the super rich to the very poor. They have families, parents, children, co-workers, friends and neighbors … and everyone is affected, even those who don’t know them personally.

So please, even if you don’t think your life has been touched by drug or alcohol abuse, take a couple hours out of your day next Monday to attend and maybe even participate in the Carlton County Opioid and Heroin Community Forum at the Cloquet Forestry Center, 175 University Road. A free meal starts at 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 5, with a panel discussion beginning at 6 p.m. Community members can also tap into resources for help at the meeting, or volunteer to get more involved themselves.

Families with young children are also encouraged to attend (and take advantage of the free babysitting) during the Oct. 5 meeting. Teenagers are also invited to attend Monday’s meeting because they’re often on the front lines of drug abuse and addiction, whether it’s friends or family or some random person they meet at a party or in class.

“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.”

Carlton County is not alone in our battle against the demons of drugs and alcohol addiction. Drugs are everywhere: in big cities, small towns and in the countryside.

Maybe if we all work together — to break the stigma of addiction so people get treatment, help law enforcement disrupt the sale of drugs, simply step up and get involved — maybe we can make a difference.

See you Monday?

~ Jana Peterson