Drugs addiction, mental health hit on at forum

Staff Sgt. David Jorgensen and Peter Komendowski with Partnership for a Drug Free Iowa visit with those present at the drug listening post in Anamosa on Jan. 19. Topics that were brought to light included lack of resources in Iowa to combat addiction and mental health. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Addiction. Prison reform. Prescription regulations. The opioid issue. Those were just several of the topics that were openly discussed during the “2017 Iowa Caring Communities Tour.” The event took place on Jan. 19 in Anamosa.

     The Jones County Safe & Healthy Youth Coalition partnered with the Office of Drug Control Policy, Partnership for a Drug Free Iowa, the Iowa National Guard Counter-Drug Program and the U.S. Department of Justice to bring the very first Tour to Jones County.

     There will be several other listening posts scheduled throughout the state.

     There were two opportunities for people to participate, at the noon luncheon or the evening event at the Lawrence Center. Roughly 30 people were in attendance during the noon session, with a handful more at night.

     Staff Sgt. David Jorgensen with the National Guard, and Peter Komendowski with Partnership for a Drug Free Iowa met with folks in the evening session.

     “Starting here in Jones County is symbolic,” said Komendowski of the efforts the Coalition is making in reducing youth and adult substance abuse. “You’ve made so many accomplishments. Things happen here that let us know we have to pay attention.”

     Komendowski said the whole idea behind these listening posts is to “help mobilize the assets and strengths of communities” across Iowa.

     “You have a great base and foundation built here,” he said of Coalition Project Coordinator Jennifer Husmann’s hard work.

     He said all of the agencies engaged in this effort are attacking the drug issue head on. On one front they’re working with the judicial branch of the government, public safety, and healthcare professionals on the prevention and treatment side. The other front is to help development the community’s ability to work together and start the conversation about how to deal with the threat of drugs and substance abuse.

     “Substance abuse erodes the critical values in a community,” added Jorgensen. “It degrades the potential of a community.”

     With so many illegal substances circulating a community (or county), Komendowski said opioid use is an epidemic. And there is little to no funding in place to fight this crisis.

     “It all starts in the home,” he said of prevention. “We need to grow the best and smartest children.”

     Komendowski said children today are not engaged with their parents due to technology and video games and smartphones.

     “It’s a problem,” he said.

     The average child, ages 8-18, spends 54 hours a week watching TV, playing video games, or playing on their cell phones.

     “And parents let kids do it,” he said. “We’ve lost that family connection.”

     He said it’s the younger kids, under the age of 8, who are spending time outside, reading books, etc.

     “There is hope,” said Komendowski.

     He likened technology to addiction, saying it’s hard to compete with the advertisements out there tell kids to download the latest app or buy the latest video game. Adults with substance abuse problems are also seeing ads that entice them to try marijuana or methamphetamine.

     Jorgensen said every society has its drug problems, but now the medical industry is playing a role in that issue of addiction. He said pain medications are prescribed, which leads to a dependency. That dependency then leads to an addiction.

     “It takes constant prevention,” he said. “There are a lot of competing forces.”

     Komendowski said businesses and organizations should have a mission that centers on a healthy lifestyle.

     “Corporations want employees to work in the safest, most productive environments,” he said. If someone in the workforce is under the influence, it’s a risk for everyone.

     There were parents present at the evening event, sharing stories about their adult children who are addicted to drugs, with little to no help out there.

     “Where did I go wrong?” asked one mother.

     Komendowski said having a child addicted to drugs does not make the parent a failure. Jorgensen said a lot of it comes down to peer pressure.

     “There are a number of factors that encourage you to re-up,” he said of the constant need. “Users develop a chemical sensation almost immediately. They try it once and that’s enough to make them have to have it.”

     And Jorgensen said there is no one cure for substance abuse.

     Another set of parents said when it comes to the mental health system, the state has very few facilities and hospital beds available for committals.

     Bill Sperfslage, the warden at the Anamosa State Penitentiary, said that he sees a lot of lives ruined in prisons because of the lack of mental health resources before the person ends up in prison.

     “That’s why we need to take care of the problem now until the legislature gets its head on straight,” Jorgensen said of the lifelong addiction.

     Komendowski said if the state could make firework legal, why are they not hearing this.

     “We need to get it through their heads that this has to be a priority,” urged Komendowski.


Subscriber Login