Panel discusses local issues, efforts.
On Tuesday, July 12th, a community forum was held at the Board of Commissioners meeting room in White Cloud. Representatives from a multitude of agencies took their turns at the podium in hopes of increasing awareness of the magnitude of the drug problem in Newaygo County while also presenting information on the efficacy of harm reduction programs such as the Red Project initiative in White Cloud.
Robert Sheehan Executive Director of the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan moderated the event.
Dr. Jennifer Morse of the District #10 Health Department and Dr. Josh Vander Lugt, an emergency room physician at Spectrum Gerber spoke to the need for such harm reduction programs to help prevent the spread of disease among not just people who use drugs but their families and the community.
“Every school has a drug issue,” stated NCRESA Superintendent Blake Prewitt who provided some insight from his years as an administrator but also from his days as a counselor in the schools as well as with substance users. “One-third of our students live in a home where addiction is a problem.”
Law Enforcement also weighed in as Newaygo County Undersheriff Chad Palmiter described the challenges faced with the burgeoning increase in methamphetamine use in the county while speaking to the number of jail residents who require detoxification after going through withdrawals after being lodged. He also talked of the frequency of officers using Narcan, a medicine used to treat opiate overdoses that literally saves lives.
Palmiter expressed his compassion for those suffering from addiction and emphasized that the officers that serve the county share that feeling.
“No one with this uniform has the attitude of ‘just let them die’. These may be people we arrest and lodge in our facility but they are still human beings with families and loved ones.”
“Half of our Protective Services cases are due to addiction.”
He also sounded a cautionary note after hearing about a bad batch of Meth being discovered in Muskegon the past week.
“If it’s in Muskegon it will be here this weekend and someone here will die this weekend.”
Brian Vaderzalm from the Department of Health & Human Services gave info on the challenges of working with families hit by addiction and listed some resources where help can be found.
Then came a pair of presenters who shared their personal stories. Jessi Lucas tentatively approached the front of the gathering and introducing herself as a person in recovery from addiction she delivered a heartfelt testimonial to harm reduction.
“What an addict needs is knowing someone cares. That’s what harm reduction is. It means while it seems no one else cares about you, they do.”
She was met with a resounding round of applause.
Ms. Lucas was followed by Donna Mazurek who founded the group Paige’s Promise after losing her daughter to an overdose of fentanyl laced heroin.
She reiterated the need for harm reduction programs to help keep the addict alive until they are ready to seek help, all the while holding a collection of photos of her daughter, lost too soon to addiction.
She also received applause from the group.
Following the presentations the panel members took questions from the audience that had been delivered in writing during the program and presenters were available afterwards to respond to audience members individually.
“It was amazing to see this community come together and care so much about people with addiction,” said Newaygo County Mental Health Executive Director Carol Mills who organized the event in response to concern from some members of the community about the Red Project. “We learned from those on the front line helping people overcome addiction and helping families through crisis. There are incredible providers in this county who care a great deal for those who suffer from various forms of addiction.
“We look forward to working with the providers to develop treatments that meet the needs of this community and work together to reduce addictions in Newaygo County.”
"The opioid crisis forum was right on point, demonstrating the collaborative and science-driven nature of Newaygo county's work on this front,” observed moderator Robett Sheehan. ”The forum allowed those in attendance to get a sense of the cross-organization vision of the community's leaders in the use of best practices - in prevention, treatment, and harm reduction - to combat this crisis. While, as is always the case when addressing complex health and law enforcement issues, on-going community dialogue and adjustments will be a part of this effort, this forum provided all in attendance with the science and data behind the Newaygo county efforts."
Carol Mills added, “Thank you to the members of the community who came out to listen and learn, and talk about ways to solve the addiction crisis in our community. Newaygo County is an amazing place to live and work. This forum showed how much this community cares about others.”