As many of your readers know, I have been involved for the last three months in an intensive research project dealing with methamphetamine and the impact it has presented upon our community. My phase one research was completed in a 52-page report and 20-age attachment section presented to the county board, on Tuesday, August 24, 2004. It was reported in the Wednesday morning edition of the Brainerd Dispatch.
This process is the compilation of the efforts of so many people. It was the Crow Wing County Health Department that brought Debra Durkin, from the Minnesota Department of Health to our community to first open our eyes to the depth of the problem we were facing.
It was the Brainerd Dispatch that ran a series of articles that so many people have reminded me that helped the community itself realize the extent of the seriousness of this problem upon all of us.
It was law enforcement officers who had been risking their lives without proper protection, who raised our alert level to the chemical hazards they faced for several years as they entered meth manufacturing labs, or dealt with increasingly aggressive individuals.
It was Social Services case workers who raised the alert when they began discovering an unusual number of cases they began to experience where parents were so addicted to meth that they wouldn't or couldn't care for their own families.
It was the county attorney's prosecution efforts that suddenly discovered in 1999 that their meth cases had increased from three to over 200 cases per year.
It was the jail staff that began experiencing huge increases in medical emergencies and costs for medications for inmates who had used meth and deteriorated their health so significantly, it was eating most of their annual budgets.
It was public health that began experiencing not only the health impacts of meth contaminated homes and surrounding property as well as pregnant women who were unwilling to give up their drug habit for their unborn child.
It was the schools that began experiencing increasing non-academic behavior problems and chemical dependency issues that helped identify complex issues that required a better approach toward helping families deal with such issues outside the regular school day environment.
It was increasing issues in planning/zoning and environmental enforcement discoveries that found new hazardous chemical dump sites caused by illegal and dangerous meth manufacturing.
It was the faith community that began to see changing issues within their congregations who responded with new family support programs.
It was increasingly frustrated parents who testified before me about their own children or the children or parents of other children they new from their extended families who most successfully raised my awareness and dedication to looking at this problem, and deciding to do something about it.
It was private practitioners and hospital clinics and nurses who raised concerns about how prevalent community health issues had changed to react to this new drug issue on our community.
It was businesses who realized that a large number of people were entering their stores and either buying large quantities of precursor chemicals or someone was stealing them, that began reporting this new awareness to law enforcement, and that report has lead to the discovery of new meth manufacturing labs.
I have proposed a multi-level approach to establish a plan of attack that involves education, prevention, intervention, enforcement, treatment and community mobilization to the County Board members at a cost proposed at $250,000 for the 2005 budget year. This would likely increase your tax burden a few pennies per year for nearly all property owners. The study I presented indicates that the costs you are already being taxed as a result of those within our community who choose to use or abuse methamphetamine will likely exceed $1.6 million this year.
As elected officials, the current county board will listen to your input. Sometimes, during emotional and personal issues, we still make decisions that some may not like. But, without your input, we can only rely on our personal experiences.
If you either support or don't support this effort, we need your input because we are facing decisions for which we are asking your comments. Should we expend $250,000 for increased law enforcement efforts as well as community wide prevention efforts as we deal with methamphetamine, or is this a time for us to do nothing and wait another year to see what happens?
The time is short, since we are required by law to approve our preliminary levy amounts during the Sept. 7 county board meeting. You may contact your individual commissioner, send a letter to any of us at the county courthouse board room, or share your comments in editorials or Open Forum comments.
I thank all of those indicated above who brought this issue to our attention, some of them with personal pain and loss, some with a global understanding about issues important to all of us.
Your comments are most welcome on this issue!
(Sluss is a Crow Wing County commissioner and is the county's methamphetamine prevention coordinator.)
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