Task force officials from the Brainerd Lakes Area Drug Education, or BLADE, cut right to it and recently asked the Crow Wing County Board of Commissioners what else they could do.

Sheriff Scott Goddard, county Adult Services Supervisor Tami Lueck and Community Services Director Kara Terry posed the question at the Tuesday, Oct. 15, committee of the whole.

“Are we on the right track, what’s missing and who else needs to be involved?” Lueck asked the commissioners at the meeting.

Goddard invited the Brainerd lakes community to last month’s open forum at Central Lakes College hosted by BLADE, and the task force plans to host similar listening sessions in Pequot Lakes and Crosby.

Law enforcement is just one of the partners in BLADE. The Lakes Area Drug Investigative Division is a multi-jurisdictional task force that involves all law enforcement agencies in the county, with the major emphasis on the investigation and enforcement of narcotics in the county.

“I want to see a better representation from our religious organizations that we have throughout because we see it in the jail all the time. People that come into our jail, they are finally getting a break or reprieve from where they are in their lives, and one of the biggest conversation pieces we see is people having that conversation about the Bible,” Goddard said. “The churches are such a big asset, and we have not seen the return that I would like to see from them -- Kara and I continue to reach out to them -- because they’re a huge partner in this, and there’s also a huge population of people that can help to spread this message.”

Listening session

Last month’s two-hour listening session at the community college was the follow-up to the community roundtable in June at Brainerd High School and included a four-person discussion panel of those working in the field of substance abuse, including a recovery addict.

“Some other efforts that we just got underway is we do have a Facebook page, and we did get a website set up as well. BLADEinitiative.org is our website … so we’re trying to keep the momentum and the information flowing to the community,” Lueck said.

Goddard said, “We’ve got to make sure that we don’t lose the forward momentum that we have, and we have to keep people engaged and not only keep them engaged but multiply that. We have to get other people to come in and be part of it. … If we get one saved -- one person a week, one person a month -- we’ll be far ahead of where we are now.”

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.”

“What about our chambers of commerce because they’re the employers? They are experiencing employees that have drug issues, maybe started while they’re working for them or came in with those issues,” Commissioner Steve Barrows said.

Terry said, “The social workers don’t just wash their hands of the folks when they came out of the jail. People come back and see them, talk with them, and they continue to support them on their journey of recovery.”

The largest population of those going into treatment is 25- to 34-year-olds, according to Lueck, and those exiting the jail sober are likely to fall off the wagon, so having peer support is crucial.

“One of the areas that we’re working on or trying to get launched is that when people leave the jail that one of the peer recovery specialists would actually be meeting with them as they’re leaving,” Lueck said.

Goddard said, “The rate of recidivism is extremely high … and if they can break that cycle, and come out when they’re clean and sober from our jail … and the same people that are picking them up from our facility are the same people that they were with when they got arrested.”

Meth problem

Meth surpassed alcohol in the county as the substance used by those entering treatment, according to Lueck. Meth seized in the state last year set a record high, according to sheriff’s office Lt. Andy Galles. The Minnesota Violent Crime Enforcement Teams seized 87 pounds in 2008 compared to the 625 pounds in 2017.

“When people are waiting to go to treatment and then when they are returning is a difficult time for them to find safe, sober housing,” said Lueck, a BLADE steering committee member.

Lueck said last month the community needs to change the way substance abuse in the county is addressed, starting with recognizing what works, what doesn’t and what else can be done.

“I brought this up at the meeting at the college, and that’s Sourcewell being included on this list of potential funders,” Barrows said at Tuesday’s meeting. “They do a lot of work with the schools -- not just in the county but in the surrounding area, too.”

Sourcewell is a self-supporting governmental organization based in Staples that partners with education, government and nonprofits to boost student and community success.

“Drugs don’t know a jurisdictional audience, so it would be a good place for Sourcewell to invest,” Barrows said.

Goddard and County Attorney Don Ryan were at the Crow Wing County Fair to talk about BLADE, which also involves area schools, the faith community and teens in the educational partnership with law enforcement and community services, including recovering addicts.

“The peer recovery specialist component and trying to engage the sober community has been really rewarding to watch. That’s a community of folks who are highly motivated to help others who have similar life experiences … and that’s something new that I haven’t seen before, so I’m tickled about that,” County Administrator Tim Houle said. “The other thing is I heard law enforcement talk about these issues with more subtlety around the mental health component than I ever heard in my career, so kudos. … It is prevention, education, treatment and enforcement. It’s all of those things.”