BLADE takes message of hope and help online

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of deaths due to overdose in the U.S. has been on the rise since 2002, from more than 20,000 to more than 50,000 in 2015.

Clockwise from upper left: Charly Niesen, a Baxter resident and recovering addict; Dan Lasher, a Crow Wing County drug court officer; Dr. Shiela Klemmetsen, an Essentia Health family physician; Theresa Rardin, a Crow Wing County social worker; and Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office Lt. Andy Galles talk about substance abuse during a BLADE virtual community forum Tuesday, June 9. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

Representatives from Brainerd Lakes Area Drug Education, or BLADE, went somewhere it has never gone before to discuss substance abuse and recovery — it went online.

They invited people to join its first-ever COVID-19 virtual community forum, which was live streamed Tuesday, June 9, on the Crow Wing County’s official YouTube channel.

“We’re now in a different time with COVID ... and because of the events that we’re experiencing, many people are feeling isolation, anxiety and hopelessness. These experiences can be amplified for those who may be dealing with substance use and sobriety,” Crow Wing County Community Services Director Kara Terry said at the start.

The forum offered several perspectives on the coronavirus, substance abuse and recovery resources in the Brainerd lakes area. The panelists included an Essentia Health physician, a county social worker, a parent or community member and a county drug court officer.

“Brainerd Lakes Area Drug Education, or BLADE, is a coalition of community working to prevent drug abuse, protect our people and preserve our community,” Terry said of the coalition’s mission.


BLADE came about as a new way to approach and consider the drug problem in Crow Wing County, according to officials, “to work with those impacted to find a healthy and productive life thus ensuring a safe and promising community for all.”

“In this time of COVID, we are seeing a whole new world of ups and downs and uncertainty,” said Dr. Shiela Klemmetsen, an Essentia Health family physician who was one of the forum panelists.

In addition to law enforcement, BLADE also involves area schools, the faith community, teens and recovering addicts in an educational partnership with community services.

Theresa Rardin is a county social worker who participated in BLADE’s virtual community forum. Her office is located in the county jail and she works in the county comprehensive reentry program aimed at helping offenders become productive members of society again.

“Just in the last few months, I really recognize how COVID would have changed things. Anxiety, depression, PTSD and substance use disorders have either been worsened or heightened,” Klemmetsen said.

Charly Niesen is a parent and a Baxter resident who has been clean and sober for more than a dozen years. She was also one of the panelists in Tuesday’s forum and spoke of Wellness in the Woods, a local nonprofit promoting wellness.

“Wellness in the Woods has the virtual peer support network, every day from 10 to 4,” Niesen said. “It gives people an opportunity to ask about resources … without the fear of law enforcement or social services. It’s a peer-run group, so it seems safer, I think, for people.”

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of deaths due to overdose in the U.S. has been on the rise since 2002, from more than 20,000 to more than 50,000 in 2015.


“There’s a lot of virtual meetings,” Niesen said of counseling in the age of COVID-19. “But like Theresa said, that can be a barrier because if somebody is homeless, you know, they might not have a phone or way to charge their phone.”

Niesen was in and out of treatments and lock-ups from the age of 16 and by the time she was 18, she had a felony, went to jail and had her first child, she once told the county board about her struggles with addiction.

“A lot of the struggles that our members have or our participants have are no different than any of ours,” said Dan Lasher, a drug court officer who participated in the community forum. “But along with those general ones that we have, the ones that hit them the hardest are for a while, their meetings were shut down. Meetings are very, very important.”

Meth seized in the state in 2018 set a record high, according to sheriff’s office Lt. Andy Galles, who moderated Tuesday’s forum. The Minnesota Violent Crime Enforcement Teams seized 87 pounds in 2008 compared to the 625 pounds in 2017.

“Obviously we still are going to target and go after the people who are distributing our drugs because that’s where it starts, but we’re taking a very different approach towards this problem and trying to get the community resources available for people,” Galles said of BLADE.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .
I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The weekly newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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