Wednesday, August 6, 2008

No easy answer to problem of alcohol

Alcohol and drug abuse is a major issue in Jackson County.

That was the consensus of panelists who discussed the topic Monday night during a town hall meeting sponsored by Together For Jackson County Kids. The meeting "Impact of Alcohol and Other Drugs on Jackson County Community: How Can We Change It?" was held at the Black River Falls Middle School.

About 10 residents attended the meeting, which featured presentations from Nick Lee, a drug and alcohol counselor with West Central Wisconsin Behavioral Health; Terry Greendeer, the Alcohol and Other Drug Program Director with Ho-Chunk Nation; Sheriff Duane Waldera; youth member Ben Hodge from Together for Jackson County Kids and Michelle Schoolcraft, social worker with the county's Department of Health and Human Services.

Brockway Police Chief Christian Eversum could not attend the meeting, but sent a letter saying his research on police calls in 2007 shows 25 percent involved some use of alcohol, tobacco or drugs.

"We clearly have a serious issue in Jackson County and it is going to take the hard work of everybody in this community to make positive change," Eversum's letter said.

Waldera echoed Eversum's comments but said the alcohol and drug connection with county calls is much higher.

"We do have a problem," Waldera said. "We need to somehow come up with a program to intervene. Citations can and do have an impact, but it needs to be more than just paying a fine and moving on. The majority of cases that sit in jail are alcohol-related and alcohol can be just about linked to every case when we've had to intervene."

Greendeer, who has worked with the Ho-Chunk alcohol and drug program for 21 years, said alcohol affects everybody regardless of race, social or cultural beliefs.

"One of the biggest things that I see with the Native American person is that one of the biggest things taken from them is their spirit," Greendeer said. "They aren't able to define what their values and beliefs are once alcohol has taken over their whole life."

Both Greendeer and Lee said preventing youth from abusing alcohol has to start with the parents, who need to understand the law and need to be involved.

"If there is normal, responsible drinking at home and it hasn't become abusive and when it doesn't become that way, there's probably a good chance a teen isn't going to acquire that attitude and engage in abuse of alcohol," Lee said.

Greendeer said her office conducts alcohol awareness activities every April, but the biggest challenge is getting participation from adults.

"Parents do not want to be involved," she said. "It hasn't changed. You're talking about a problem that exists and has been in existence for years and years and generations, but it's always hidden in the closet and is devastating to everybody. I don't know what to do. They don't want to admit there is even a problem."

Greendeer said sometimes a parent will refer a child for in-patient treatment and the child is gone for 45 days, but comes back to the same home environment that contributed to the addiction problem in the first place.

"The family doesn't get the treatment that the child should have had," Greendeer said. "They want their child to live a sober lifestyle but yet the parent hasn't gone the extra mile to be supportive of their child while they are in treatment."

In-patient facility

Judge Thomas Lister, who attended the meeting, asked Greendeer if the Ho-Chunk Nation would be willing to work with the community to provide an in-patient treatment facility in Jackson County. She said the nation is working on providing one for its own members, but would have an interest in a community center as well.

Lister said a facility closer to home would allow members to get the family support they need. He also said the facility would give the courts more options for defendants who need treatment rather than putting them in jail for a cost between $40 to $80 a day, depending on their medical needs.

"Give me an inpatient facility where I can put them rather than in jail," Lister said. "Give me that $40 to $50 a day to a residential treatment center where they can get some meaningful intervention. Maybe we can pull together some philanthropists and local organizations and try for one."

Lister said the court is limited when dealing with alcoholism as a disease. Simply putting alcoholics in jail may be punishment for the crime, but upon release the person has not been rehabilitated.

Waldera said continuing to arrest repeat offenders for bail violations - many of them for consuming alcohol - ties up two to three hours of a deputy's time for each arrest.

"It tends to be a revolving door sometimes," Waldera said. "Our deputies get frustrated. If there is a way to intervene, identify the problem and get them adequate help, it will be a cost-saving to the county. We can fill the beds in the jail; that's not the issue. But we need to keep repeat offenders out of the jail and have them be productive citizens in society."

Schoolcraft said Together for Jackson County Kids remains committed to continuing discussion and dialogue on the alcohol and drug abuse issue and additional town hall meetings are possible.

"We need to find a common ground that all of us can live with to help our children grow up and be successful adults," she said.
source: Jackson County Chronicle,

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