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People attending a community forum Monday night get an up-close look at synthetic marijuana, an eight-ball of cocaine and pipes for “hot-railing” methamphetamine during a show-and-tell session. The event was hosted by the Kandiyohi County Drug-Free Communities Coalition. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

‘Talk to your kids’: Town hall meeting on alcohol, drugs emphasizes message of prevention

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WILLMAR — When members of the regional CEE-VI Drug and Gang Task Force give public presentations, they hear from many parents who have no idea what street drugs and drug paraphernalia look like.

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So a show-and-tell at a town hall meeting Monday night got the audience off its feet for an up-close look at confiscated samples of synthetic marijuana known as K2, an eight-ball of cocaine and pipes for “hot-railing” methamphetamine.

When it comes to preventing chemical use, knowledge is power, Tony Cruze and Don Schmidt told the group.

“Nobody wakes up in the morning saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to slam some heroin up my arm.’… Most people don’t understand what a powerful grip it has on their loved ones,” said Cruze, commander of the multi-county task force. “We just don’t see a whole lot of good.”

The presentation on drugs took place at a community forum hosted by the Kandiyohi County Drug-Free Communities Coalition, a federally funded local initiative for education and prevention of alcohol, tobacco and other drug use among underage youths.

The goal is to spark discussion that leads to action, said Rick Loseth, a member of the coalition and one of the organizers of the town hall meeting.

“This is information you can use with your own families and share with others,” he said.

The CEE-VI task force concentrates on sellers of narcotics and other drugs in Kandiyohi, Chippewa, Meeker, Swift and Yellow Medicine counties, sometimes working undercover on investigations that lead to arrests and criminal convictions. Last year the task force made 160 felony-level arrests.

The human trail of destruction can be far-reaching, often enveloping partners, spouses, children and even infants, Schmidt and Cruze said.

For many, chemical use can become a way of life that’s extremely difficult to escape, Schmidt said. “Once we start dealing with people, it seems like we never, ever, ever, ever stop.”

The task force continues to aggressively target meth dealers. Heroin, which is rapidly becoming a scourge in the metro area and in outstate centers such as Duluth and Mankato, has not been seen in this region — but that may be because narcotic pills are keeping it at bay for now, said Cruze and Schmidt.

K2, or synthetic marijuana, also known as spice, is increasingly prevalent in the region, and some of the supply is now being produced locally. Often laced with other chemicals, it’s considered more potent and more dangerous than marijuana, Cruze and Schmidt said.

Parents who grew up in the 1970s may not realize the difference between the marijuana of 40 years ago and the marijuana being produced today, said Cruze. Young people who progress to harder drugs often start with marijuana, he noted. “People do move up the chain.”

He and Schmidt said enforcement remains critical.

“If you back off these guys one minute, they’ll take over… We have to continue going after these guys hard,” Schmidt said.

Although prevention is hard to measure, “we’ve taken a lot of dope off the streets,” Cruze said. “I can tell you what it would look like if we weren’t doing what we do.”

Statistics consistently show that among local teenagers, marijuana is the second leading drug of choice; alcohol is first, Loseth said.

“Statistically, we know that the earlier you start using marijuana, alcohol, anything, the more likely you are to get addicted later on,” he said. “Our goal as a coalition is to say, ‘How do we as a community look at decreasing the exposure?’ We need multiple solutions, not just one answer.”

For the majority of kids, their parents are who they listen to the most, he said.

“Talk to your kids. That sounds real simple. I know that’s real complicated,” Loseth said. “We need to have those conversations with our kids, starting at an early age, not waiting until they’re juniors in high school. As a community you need to have conversations about the kegger in the back yard. We don’t always want to, but those are the conversations we need to have. It lies with us.”

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Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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