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Tribal Action Plan Aims to fight Drug Epidemic

By Joe Morey

News Editor

“People are dying, children are suffering and families are devastated. Our rich Ojibwe culture and values are being displaced by addiction and crime. We come together today to strengthen our community’s response to help our people gain recovery and live a good life - ‘mino-bimaadiziwin.”

This was the synopsis of the Community Drug Threat Response Team (DTRT), formerly drug task force, on May 21, 2018, following the tribal resolution adopted in November of 2017 declaring a State of Emergency.

A Tribal Action Plan (TAP) was created by the DTRT and presented to the Lac Courte Oreilles community on Tuesday, April 23, at the Sevenwinds Casino Conference Center. Over 100 community members attended the presentation and shared their thoughts on the response, what can be done to prevent drug abuse and treat addiction.

Dottie Crust, the Tribal Opioid Response Coordinator, who is also chairperson of the DTRT, shared a slideshow presentation of the TAP and then opened up the floor for discussion among the community members. Comment cards were also handed out.

Regarding the next step, Crust said, “We take the comment cards and have a meeting between the LCO Grants Department and the Drug Threat Response Team and integrate any information that may not be currently addressed. Then send back to tribal council for final approval and when that is done we can submit to funders and it will give us an edge on grants and a direction to work towards. DTRT will continue to monitor and poll the community to assure we are still heading in the same direction.”

The tribal council declared a state of emergency stating in its resolution, “From the massive abuse by tribal members of methamphetamine, heroin, and illegal drugs: deaths by drug overdose; the breakdown of family networks; child neglect and abandonment; disproportionate criminal incarcerations of tribal members stemming from drug addiction; and the diminishment of the dignity of individual tribal members and ultimately the diminishment of the integrity of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians,” that in order to address the public health epidemic, the community needed education and collaboration between tribal resources and programs.

With that declaration, the TGB directed all tribal agencies, departments and entities to make it a top priority and work towards solutions to the massive and complex problems caused by abuse which threatens the tribe.

Early on the DTRT decided upon three goals based on three areas of need, Treatment, Prevention and Capacity.

Crust had previously explained in November that the development of the TAP has been extensive and time consuming for all participating members.

Several comments made by community members include having road blocks and checking vehicles with drug dogs, banishment from tribal housing or the reservation for persons maintaining drug houses, and providing more education on the help that is available for those addicted.

DeAnna McGuire said Legalize the all natural medicine to cure our people. “They are turning to meth, heroin, pills because they are sick, depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar, cancer, whatever the case is there is a cure. Hemp/marijuana industry could cure people and create tons of jobs and make our reservation full of tourists. There are so many business ideas with this.”

Margo Diamond-Robertson said, “Maybe start with early prevention education. Also educating families on how to cope with their loved ones addiction.”

To read about how the goals for the TAP were laid out, visit this link

To read the full Tribal Action Plan draft, view it here

Alcohol, Substance Abuse and other Data

The TAP starts out summarizing the actual epidemic the tribe faces with some important information on how the situation grew since it erupted in 2011.

“The Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe has battled an ever-increasing opioid epidemic which erupted in 2011. That year, because of the number of overdose deaths, law enforcement officials of the Drug Enforcement Administration seized 131 medical records from Lac Courte Oreilles Community Health Center and began a long-term investigation of narcotic abuse and inappropriate prescribing,” the TAP explained. “An on-site monitoring review by the Bemidji Indian Health Service found that during October 2011 – June 2012, there were 268,241 Hydrocodone (Vicodin) pills dispensed for a total clinic user population of 3,162. (In November, 2012 alone, 37,000 hydrocodone pills were dispersed.) The volume translated to 85 pills per patient if all patients were taking the medication. Further, a chart review of nine deceased patients revealed that all were on narcotic medications. For eight of the patients, there was no documentation of a diagnosis, continued care, or justification for use of a narcotic, and no indication of monitoring and no referrals to Behavioral Health/AODA counseling. And finally, that the tribe’s doctor had been prescribing hydrocodone (Vicodin) at four times higher than the next highest prescriber in Wisconsin. U.S. Attorney Vaudreuil stated that the interviews they conducted revealed ‘the creation of a chemically dependent community.’”

The TAP further stated, “According to a report released on March 6, 2018 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid overdoses jumped 30 percent in just one year. The largest regional increase occurred in the Midwest, which saw a 69.7 percent jump in opioid overdoses, driven in part by a 109 percent increase in Wisconsin.”

The 2017 Wisconsin Methamphetamine Study by the FBI reports that meth use is higher in rural parts of Wisconsin, north of US Highway 29, (encompassing Sawyer County and Lac Courte Oreilles) and that meth is trafficked into Wisconsin from Minnesota, originating from California and Mexico.

“In 2016 (2012-2014 data), Sawyer County had the highest per capita drug overdose mortality rate per capita in the State of Wisconsin; in 2017 (2013-2015 data), it ranked the fourth highest,” the TAP noted. “The substance abuse problem begins in middle school, where more than 10% of students take both over-the-counter drugs and illicit prescription drugs to get high.”

The TAP goes on to explain that meth and heroin have made their way into the reservations at an alarming pace. In 2017, the Tribal Police Department received so many drug complaints they had to pull an officer off patrol to exclusively handle drug investigations.

Sawyer County Sheriff Mrotek confirmed, “The biggest challenge facing our county is the drug epidemic” and that “Meth and heroin [is] out of control.” Further, “It’s not just the illegal activity of using or selling drugs, it’s the additional criminal activity they get involved in to support their habits.”

The TAP further stated Sawyer County Circuit Court Judge Yackel reiterated those remarks saying, “The current drug epidemic has infiltrated into almost every area of our community. It seems as if these drugs are fueling a significant majority of all the crimes being committed.”

In Sawyer County, Wisconsin, Native Americans are arrested at a rate seven (7) times greater than non-natives (22% vs. 3% of population).

“40% of all crimes within the county take place on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation even though its population represents only 17.3% of the total. County Law Enforcement officials attribute the high incidence rates to drugs, gangs and criminal activity of Lac Courte Oreilles tribal members. 61% of the inmates in the Sawyer County Jail are native. According to the Sawyer County District Attorney’s Office, most drug-related crimes originate from the LCO Reservation,” the TAP stated.

The TAP then reveals the impact this drug epidemic has had on child welfare.

“There are 106 children placed with relatives in Kinship Care, and 22 children placed in foster homes and residential settings. There are 71 open ICW cases with court ordered involvement. During fiscal year 2018, there were 221 child abuse and neglect reports (Access reports) taken by the Indian Child Welfare and Family Services Department (not all warrant removal of children). And there is no foreseeable decline in those numbers. Currently, reports of neonatal exposure to substances remains high and eight (8) Access reports have been received this quarter. Native Caseworkers from the Bad River reservation report that most infants in the Duluth, Minnesota neonatal intensive care unit are drug-exposed babies from northern Ojibwe reservations, including Lac Courte Oreilles.”

The Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Court has seen an increase in drug-related case filings in 2017 of over 200%. The Court is managing its highest caseload ever; 2017 cases jumped 413% in six years. There are now 1,567 open cases -- one case for every other tribal member resident.

“The Lac Courte Oreilles Housing Authority (LCO HA) was first made aware of the meth issue in 2015 when the Tribal Police Department participated in “Operation Raven” which conducted a series of meth raids involving five (5) of their households. Since that time that meth impact has steadily increased. In November 2017, the Housing Authority reported 16 units were uninhabitable due to meth contamination. Sawyer County Clerk reported eight (8) charges filed for maintaining a drug trafficking house in 2017 and seven (7) already for 2018; the majority are located on the reservation,” the TAP reported.


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