Winona Police Community Liason Officer Kevin Kearney has been getting a lot of calls from parents whose children are addicted to synthetic drugs. "What do we do?" they ask him. Kearney hopes a town hall meeting and a new anti-substance abuse coalition will provide parents with more resources and more answers to that desperate question.
"The behavior that comes [as a result] of these drugs is really bizarre and extreme," Kearney said. Man-made drugs like "plant food" and "bath salts" and, the new favorite, "turbo," are new and unique to Winona, Kearney says. Heroin is big in La Crosse, but the prevalence of synthetic drug abuse in Winona is remarkable. The affects of such drugs are horrendous. Routine users become thin and develop sores, Kearney explained. What he and Todd Hoffe of Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center hear from young people is "that the addicts are in pain and don't like the synthetic drugs. Whereas with cocaine, crack, or heroin they still love that drug," he said.
Use of marijuana is high, almost as high as alcohol, because it is very accessible, Kearney reported. "Often times that is where substance abuse starts," he said.
The numbers of young people using synthetic drugs "aren't at the scary moment yet, but how long do we want to wait?"
Kearney, Hoff, and Livewell Winona are hosting a town hall meeting to discuss substance abuse with parents and community leaders. A group of community partners are forming a coalition to provide users, teachers, students, parents, families, and friends with more resources for preventing substance abuse and supporting addicts and their loved ones. They hope to win a federal Drug Free Communities grant like the one that is funding drug abuse prevention efforts in Red Wing.
It is time for the community to rally around preventing substance abuse in Winona, Kearney said. It is a big problem; bigger than any one entity can see, he said.
The Substance Abuse Town Hall Meeting is Tuesday, September 3, from 5 to 6 p.m. at the Winona Middle School.