Crow Wing County's efforts to fight a growing methamphetamine problem have been given no help by Commissioner Paul Koering.
At a March 19 committee of the whole meeting focused on the various efforts by county departments aimed at meth enforcement, education and prevention, Koering made statements that not only needed to be walked back by other county officials during the meeting, but were rightfully derided by members of the public after the fact.
Specifically, it was this comment from Koering regarding deaths from meth addiction that grabbed attention, and not in a good way: "I don't know why we're in such a big hurry to save somebody that's like this? I guess it sounds kind of harsh, but-I don't know-it kind of gets rid of a problem, in my mind."
So far, Koering has made no public explanation of his comments. He should. His constituents in District 1, all residents of Crow Wing County and anyone whose life has been touched by the scourge of meth deserve an answer.
What Koering's comments accomplished March 19 was taking attention away from the good efforts being put forth by the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office, Crow Wing County Attorney's Office and Crow Wing County Community Services to address the county's meth problem.
At best Koering's comments were made out of a lack of knowledge regarding meth, but we don't buy that, especially not when considering his long tenure as an elected official, including a stint in the Minnesota Senate.
At worst, Koering's comments reveal a lack of compassion and understanding-not only of the drug itself, but of the values of this community. We should look at meth addiction and the ancillary issues that arise from it as we do with other addictions or illnesses-identify the problems and seek solutions, not turn our backs on the problem. If instead of meth, the focus of the March 19 meeting would have been alcohol, would Koering, a former owner of two liquor stores, have offered up the same comments?
Meth-related crimes are on the rise in Crow Wing County and Minnesota, but the problem with meth extends beyond simply being one of crime. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of deaths due to overdose has been on the rise since 2002, from more than 20,000 to more than 50,000 in 2015. In Crow Wing County, the average number of children last year in out-of-home placement per month was about 180-about 40 more than in 2011-and the expenditures for out-of-home placement rose from about $2.5 million in 2014 to almost $5.5 million last year in correlation with parental meth use.
Yes, there is a lack of understanding about meth addiction, and we're pleased other county officials are taking the issue seriously and working toward solutions. Why should we care? Because anyone caught in the grips of meth-be it addicts, affected family members, the community that offers support, and taxpayers who pay for enforcement efforts-deserves our empathy, not our derision. As the stats show, the reach of meth goes far beyond just those addicted to it.
Ignoring the problem is not a solution. Turning our backs on the problem is not a solution. Wondering if it would be better to let someone addicted to meth die is not a solution. We certainly hope that is a lesson Koering will learn.