News Article Details

Kenyon forum tackles tough issues of mental health and addiction

The Kenyon Leader - 4/25/2017

While the issues associated with drug use and mental illnesses are often deeply entrenched, a group of concerned citizens met in Kenyon last Thursday and began the discussion of how to address them locally.

The forum panel included Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander, retired teacher Kevin Anderson, retired nurse Bev Emerson and Barb Peterson. A group of about 10 people attended and nearly all joined in the conversation at one point or another.

"What we do as a community, together, makes a difference in the lives [of] all," said Emerson, adding that "...lives can be changed one person at a time."

Emerson began, speaking about her concerns regarding the increase in drug use in the region. She cited a 43-year-old Faribault woman who died this winter due to the synthetic opioid carfentanil; one of 11 cases involving that highly potent drug that the Minnesota Drug Enforcement Agency has investigated in the past six months.

Heroin, she said, is rising fast because it is a cheap and available alternative to prescription opioids. Studies have found that 75 percent of heroin addicts used prescription painkillers before turning to heroin.

Pot problems

Sjolander expressed exasperation with some of the common attitudes about marijuana in the area. The "pot" on the streets today is different from marijuana that was seen in past decades, he said. One reason is that THC levels are significantly higher. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive compound in marijuana that acts on the brain to produce the feeling of being high.

According to facts presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in 2015, analysis of marijuana samples in Colorado revealed that some contained as much as 30 percent THC. In comparison, the levels of THC in marijuana 30 years ago were generally below 10 percent.

Sometimes drug use is tied in with mental health issues, Sjolander said. People self-medicate to try to take away pain and anguish, but drugs can actually cause more problems than they relieve.

He said the police department answers calls to assist people having mental delusions that are often related to drug use. Also of note are the dangers of dealing with people who use and deal in illicit drugs, especially over payment or delivery.

"A lot of stuff happens here, even in little Kenyon," Sjolander said.

People sometimes ask him why he doesn't post specifics about drug arrests on the department's Facebook page. Sjolander said he has no desire to air these problems on social media. Kenyon is just too small of a town and people figure out who a post is about. It would add even more difficulty for families and individuals, he said.

Some of the drug problems can be traced to lifestyle and upbringing. Sjolander said there are young adults out there who don't have the necessary coping skills for life. They are sleeping in garages, stealing cigarette butts and making poor choices. Parents should not be afraid to be strong and confront issues.


Recently, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar announced $5 million in federal funding to combat opioid addiction in Minnesota with a grant to support efforts in prevention, treatment and recovery services.

While treatment options are out there for substance abuse and for mental illnesses, a number of obstacles can keep people from receiving help and being successful.

It is not uncommon for a patient to wait 10-12 hours for a bed to become available at a treatment center or hospital, said Sjolander.

Bev Emerson noted that there are 59 treatment centers in Minnesota. Detox units are as close as Rochester and Hastings, but patients only receive 72 hours of treatment and then they are turned away. It's just enough time to get into the really bad drug withdrawal symptoms, she said, and people can't be held against their will.

Then there are too many ways for people to either avoid getting help or to find useful assistance. People may not have their driver's license or a vehicle, or they aren't a good fit for a particular support group.

"What you put into your system can have lifelong, damming effects," said Sjolander.

He said that he believes people when they say they need inpatient treatment. He doesn't generally believe them if they say they are OK with outpatient care.

The Kenyon Police Department often finds itself in a support position to help people cope with their circumstances for the best outcome. Sjolander said they have been known to give breathalyzer tests to document a person's sobriety so they could drive to work.


Emerson said the rise in opioid overdoses has led to many departments, and even families, keeping a supply of Narcan on hand. The medicine blocks and counteracts the opiate receptors in the brain so the person doesn't feel high, even though the drugs are still in their system.

The KPD has three doses of Narcan per officer for emergencies. People can die quickly from overdose side effects, and the nearest hospital is not exactly close by.

Where to turn?

The panelists agreed that silence and compliance do not fix addiction problems. Speaking to someone about their problems and airing concerns could be the difference that turns around a life.

A table at the forum was filled with helpful literature and reference materials, which Emerson said is a good place to start. The brochures are available at KPD and through the Zumbro Valley Health Center in Rochester.

From the audience, Kenyon-Wanamingo Superintendent Jeff Pesta pointed to the Minnesota Student Survey. It's a highly-respected and accurate survey conducted statewide every three years. The survey contains information about student use and youth opinions about tobacco, alcohol and other substances. Statistics can be tracked multiple ways, including by district, gender and grade level.

"K-W is lower than you would think for drug use, compared to other communities, but our smokeless tobacco rate is higher here," said Pesta.

The school continues to employ a police liaison officer and also added a counselor position that had previously been cut.

Will there be another forum session? If community interest generates discussion, the forum could meet again.


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