Heroin use among high school students in Northfield

Kurt Larson at Larson’s Printing alerted me to this article published in the Pioneer Press on Monday: Meth hospital, treatment admissions down in ’06. The article ends with this paragraph, italics mine:

Falkowski said she has been monitoring the media for signs of heroin abuse in upscale schools for years, without finding evidence of the suburban drug trends evident in other states. That changed several months ago with reports of a heroin network among high school students in Northfield.

(Falkowski is Carol Falkowski, director of the Butler Center for Research at Hazelden.)

heroin.jpgThe way that paragraph is written implies that Northfield is an upscale suburb, which ain’t so. But I phoned Northfield Police Chief Gary Smith today and he confirmed the story and the problem… and indicated that the heroin use is definitely by students from upper income families here in Northfield.

He indicated that there was a local effort in the works (evidently HCI is involved) to address the problem, including the lack of a local treatment facility/program. He might be able to add more info about this on his blog or via a comment here.

Update July 6: I’ve deleted the text and YouTube video on Incarcerex that I included in the original blog post and removed phrase ‘war on drugs’ from the blog title. With over 100 comments, the message thread was loading slowly and hopefully this will speed things up a bit… as well as help keep the discussion Northfield-focused.

Update July 11:After rereading articles and comments in preparation for today’s radio show/podcast, I’ve edited the title of the blog post from ‘Heroin network at the Northfield High School’ to ‘Heroin use among high school students in Northfield.’ This change more accurately reflects A) the actual wording of the Hazelden researcher, and B) the fact that there are high schoolers in Northfield who are at the district high school, at ARTech, and who are being homeschooled. I apologize for the wording and acknowledge that it was unfair to the school district and its high school. My error is partially due to my longstanding support for charter schools. I guess this is an example of what’s called biased reporting. Oddly, no one called me on this.


  1. Griff Wigley said:

    The podcast of today’s show on KYMN with Supt. Richardson and Chief Smith is now available:

    I welcome reactions/feedback/criticism, either about what they said or about how we handled the show. No need to be gentle with us. We have thick skins.

    July 11, 2007
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Note to ‘annoyed citizen’: I’ve removed your comment because you didn’t use your real first and last name and your criticism of another person here was mostly just a put-down. Feel free to disagree here but address the person directly and use a tone that will make it likely they’ll want to at least listen to you.

    July 11, 2007
  3. Anne Bretts said:

    I read the MPR story and so it seems experts in the system knew about this heroing use 18 months ago and told police, which means a full school year and summer have passed and the experts haven’t had time to talk to parents or the school officials or or each other to coordinate the figures or inform the community until a rushed press conference in the middle of a second summer vacation?
    And I’m sorry to those who disagree, but numbers are important. There’s a big difference between 100 users ages 15-23 and 250 kids in the high school — and it’s too late now to put the genie back in the bottle.
    I don’t buy the argument that it doesn’t matter how many kids are doing heroin because it’s still a problem. Of course it’s a problem, but we’ve tarred the community nationally with talk of an epidemic and a crime wave and a drug network based in the high school.
    With such a small number of people using in a concentrated community, and with the police chief’s comment that his department probably knows most of the users and the treatment officials’ records on those in the system, and with this many professionals involved, there should be a way to coordinate the information and be pretty darned accurate. Without numbers, how does anyone know whether the problem is getting better or worse, which approaches are working and what grants are worth the money? I don’t think the answer right now is more funding, but more accountability for the funding that’s out there.
    Again, I think there are a lot of good people working hard, but the gears just aren’t meshing.
    For example, the probation department isn’t seeing a wave of heroin use among criminals, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that just under 1 percent of high school seniors nationally report using heroin — a number steady for a decade and the same reported by students here. Under the circumstances, you would think the jump 18 months ago in Northfield among ‘good kids’ should have been very obvious.
    Finally, as for comments that we adults are shaming teens by not respecting their comments about being bored, some people here are just sharing observations found in their own experience in the very same situation. Others are pointing out that being bored enough to do drugs isn’t really about not having enough to do to be happy, but about not being happy enough to do anything that matters. If you are so bored at 17 that drugs make sense, you may be hardwired to face a lifetime of temptation and will have to work hard to find positive alternatives.
    Like I said in an earlier post, there are members of my family and friends of mine who face that lifelong temptation — some successfully and some not so much — and others who never even feel the mildest curiosity. Same gene pool, same upbringing, same aching small-town boredom in a much less exciting, much less affluent part of industrial northwestern Indiana.
    To any teens who thought an earlier post of mine was too harsh, it was a momentary lapse in judgment, and I’m sure you can relate. Seriously, after 20-some years of writing stories about dead prom-goers and ATV riders and drug uers and gun users and four years on a fire department rescue squad that picked up their broken bodies, and a lifetime of listening to the news of teens killed in wars they didn’t start and couldn’t stop, the comments about not having enough to do on a summer night tempted me too much and I couldn’t resist practicing the rants I will be using on my grandkids in a few years.
    I am trying to get into a support group with Bruce Morlan and the rest of us who battle creeping codgerism. Wish me luck.

    July 11, 2007
  4. Anne Bretts said:

    Sorry for typos. Griff, you need a preview option. Easier to proofread, especially with tired old eyes working too late at night.

    July 11, 2007
  5. Luc P. Guerber said:

    I’ve heard a lot of numbers. Originally the paper said some spend ‘$600 a day’ and a star tribune article shot it up to ‘$800 a day’. Same with the number of users, i’ve heard up to 250 people in town. I don’t know where the police get their numbers, much less the average person on the street, but i’m wondering if any one person or group can have an accurate depiction at this point.
    I think it’s possible there’s a hierarchy like a pyramid,where the people on the very top are at the capacity to drop a lot more money than the ones at the bottom, probably with a heavier habit and out of town connections. But i would think the majority of people spend less and do less as you go farther down the pyramid. What the pyramid would be comprised of from an economic standpoint could easily lead one to believe that there are more people involved in it than there really are, or with all the people involved you could easily assume there’s much more money involved than there really is. It’s very ambiguous, and i really don’t know much from my limited standpoint. Is there anyone who is in the proper social position to give an accurate estimate as to how many people use smack? And if so, i wonder if a good chunk of Northfield would be unconvinced about any user’s testimony because they discount it, automatically associating them with words like “unethical” or even “evil”.
    The distribution of information (or even direct contact with the situation) is very unbalanced, and many people talk as if they know the whole story. Is there a way that we could pool all sorts of people’s knowledge? Would the people necessary for such a feat (from all walks of life – user, student, police, teacher, parent, etc.) be willing to work together in an organized fashion? The information seems so fragmented, it makes me think it’s possible to put the pieces together to gain a better understanding. Are the police willing to let someone anonymously help them (keeping in mind the fear of retaliation from users)?
    Drugs in my experience have usually been scenery to a much bigger issue, and the hardest thing (especially when dealing with vast numbers) is that it’s usually a personal thing. A lot of people want to propose a ‘cure all’, which doesn’t sound realistic since this is a community issue, and we need to solve it as a community. Unfortunately it seems to be moving some parts of the community apart and some forget that we’re talking about PEOPLE.
    I don’t mean to preach, but heroin has affected some of my friends, so i thought i’d give my two cents. If i think of anything promising or useful i’ll comment again.

    July 12, 2007
  6. Holly Cairns said:

    Hey Annoyed Citizen,

    Sounds like you use. Uniformed parents are just as bad as junkies?

    I read the label “zero tolerance” brings more money to our community to fight the drug– sorry for bringing that up.

    Did you not like my “telling on others” idea, or what? Did you not like my my ideas about marijuana?

    Sorry about the grammatical errors. I know that is one of my weaknesses.

    July 12, 2007
  7. Susan Ecklund said:


    Regarding your post #232:

    I did not read the Northfield News article as saying Chief Smith was advocating treatment for dealers (I try to be clear, but it’s difficult when I am seeing red, as I was upon reading that headline). Nor do I question the importance of treatment for some users, especially those who are actually addicted and unable to quit on their own. I still maintain, though, that the police should focus on law enforcement, in this case stopping the heroin transactions that are occurring right here in Northfield. If the situation is as dire as Gary Smith presents it, it seems like that is his most urgent priority. He may be focusing all his efforts on drying up the supply, but that is not what came through in the article.

    July 12, 2007
  8. Penny Hillemann said:

    Just finished reading the straw poll comments. I think the last long comment, on page 33 of the PDF version, presents a suggestion well worth pursuing:

    We can still use this summer for some events [on] Bridge Square. All kinds of stakeholders can say there thing, police, school, health care providers. All must be accompanied by great music that appeals to young folks, and it would be great to have some former drug users speak, perform, etc. There can be open mic nights. Organizations can be out there with their information tables, or just one leaflet with ALL numbers and names together, if people don’t want to go to a specific table. If we have an
    actitivities event each late August, we can certainly do this. Do it OFTEN and SOON, really SOON. City, school, hospital, clinics, colleges, should all be donating resources to these events. If we do it NOW, next week, we , adults, are telling the kids: we care
    about this, we need to get to the bottom of this, we need to network, informally as well as formally, to build the safety nets our children need. The kids in town are buzzing about
    it, at least were for a few days, but are already getting tired of it I hear, so quick community response is necessary.

    July 12, 2007
  9. Max Jennings said:

    In response to many posts tell youth to get involved with afterschool activities (sports, music, theater, clubs). I think that these activities are a good way to combat the drug problems. The sports programs at the high school are to intense though. You can either be on the team or not and if you are on one team you can be in any other sports or clubs or activities. I quit playing soccer, because I couldn’t be in the fall play and on the team at the same time. I think that the sports teams need to be less all or nothing and more come and learn new skills and have fun.
    On a different note, the Key will be hosting a public discussion about the recent drug problems. This will take place on Monday the 16th at 7:00 at the Key (which is located at 303 Water St.). We will have a loose agenda, but we will try to facilitate spontaneous discussion. We hope that the meeting will be intergeneration but with a youth focus and perspective.
    Again this will take place on Monday the 16th at 7:00 at 303 Water St.

    July 12, 2007
  10. If I may be indulged, I would like to continue to dispell some more of the myths surrounding drug use. So far I have pointed out that creativity does not come in a vial, and that feelings of warmth and fearlessness can be had through legal efforts.

    Furthermore, If any adult or authority figure or my little cousin lies to me,
    I don’t have to hurt them back or hurt myself by doing drugs. The best
    fight against a lie is the truth. Research, ask around, figure out what the
    truth of any matter is and go with that, not the drug thing.

    And the same goes for boredom (which I feel is just a form of impatience to grow up and be independent…this is a lesson in patience, which every teen
    needs to develop in order to become a successful person dealing in an ever
    complicated world.) So, boredom can be easily dispelled by thinking of things that can be done in a new and fresh way…as I tried to list in
    my last post. I don’t expect anyone to do any of the things I suggested.
    I merely mean to show that things can be thought of by anyone and done by
    anyone to dispell boredom, the desire to do drugs, and to further your
    human experience, and perhpas even help to make this world a better place.

    Good luck!


    July 12, 2007
  11. Penny Hillemann said:

    Sorry if I am posting too much (not so busy at work this week!), but I wanted to respond to another commenter in the straw poll, who wrote:

    People should not be judged just because they choose to use a drug which has certain side effects. EVERYONE uses drugs, yet the police aren’t trying to go after most people for taking a few acetaminophen, etc. “Illegal drugs” are just what the powers that be see as a treat to their interests. People need to make their own decisions.

    Really? No distinctions between pharmaceuticals should be drawn? No differences in availability (OTC vs. prescription vs. highly controlled/illegal)? No distinction between a mild painkiller or something to stop your sneezing, and drugs that powerfully affect perception, response time, mood and judgment? Between drugs that have no history of creating physiological dependence and those that have a strong history? Between drugs that allow a person with an identified health condition to live a relatively normal life and those that diminish functioning or have longterm deleterious effects? No controls whatsoever by way of age limits (alcohol, tobacco) or physician oversight? Truly, the only reason some drugs are illegal is because of power issues, and no drugs should ever be illegal?

    I think you will find very few people who agree with such a position. Yes, we are an overly medicated society. Yes, the pharmaceutical companies have a vested interest in selling us drugs. Yes, we have a cultural history that makes us inconsistent in our approach to different types of drugs (again, alcohol and tobacco as well as caffeine as cases in point). We can work on those issues and on a sane drug policy without opening up the pharmacopoeia for a free-for-all.

    July 12, 2007
  12. Holly Cairns said:

    Hi, good to hear from you Max and from everybody else

    I’ll see you at the Key on Monday.

    You know, back in the early ’90’s I took a small job– the goal was “primary violence prevention”. I was handed nothing but money to help the kids. We called it FreePops and set the curriculum after we found what “worked.” We talked about rape, drugs, dropping out of school, cops, family, gangs, etc. We listened to the kids and heard about their pain, and then decided the goals for what was considered “working” as violence prevention.

    For example, two kids kept saying they were being targeted by the police because their brothers had been in trouble. We brought the police in for food and the kids told them what they thought– and after that the police started to smile when they saw the kids. YOu might think that is stupid, but the kids relaxed a lot. One small step.

    What about using some of the earlier described grant money to do something here in town? What do the kids want or need… start there?

    July 12, 2007
  13. Max Jennings said:

    I don’t know if the police have been specifly invited (I will bring it up with other members of the youth board of the Key), but I think that it would be a great idea to include them in the discussion process.
    Just so it doesn’t get lost and for anyone new to the thread, The Key is hosting a public discussion on the recent drug problems in Northfield.
    The forum will take place on Monday the 16th at 7:00 at 303 Water St.

    July 12, 2007
  14. Mary Rossing said:

    Griff (and Tracy and Ross)
    Thanks for a very good program on KYMN about the issue. It was refreshing to hear a thoughtful conversation and to hear both chief Smith and Dr. Richardson together after hearing them seperately on the radio on previous days. I am going to have to listen to it again since I missed bits here and there, but I encourage others to listen to the alternate local media (KYMN radio) regularly and to tune in to the pod cast.

    July 12, 2007
  15. Griff Wigley said:

    To the anonymous poster, ‘former Northfielder.’ I’ve temporarily deleted your post since you didn’t use your real first and last name. Contact me if you’re willing and I’ll put it back. Thanks.

    July 12, 2007
  16. Christine Stanton said:

    Is it possible for those who attended the Mayor’s Task Force meeting on Tuesday night to attend the meeting at the Key this coming Monday? I agree that it would also be nice to have law enforcement representative(s). School representatives would also be good. I see this meeting as a good opportunity for the adults to listen to what some of the the kids have to say. I plan on attending and I encourage other, concerned parents and community members to do the same.

    July 12, 2007
  17. Jeffrey W. Tenney said:


    This summer my 16 year old daughter came to live with me in Northfield. Since she had no friends in town, she made attempts at finding some, or at least at getting some kind of active life going here.

    She contacted the Arts Guild to offer herself as a volunteer. She got no response. She contacted the Northfield Historical Society to offer herself as a volunteer. She got no response. She contacted the Key, asking what kind of activities they had available that she could participate in. She got no response.

    It’s not so much the lack of availability of opportunities that was disappointing as it was the simple lack of response. How can an organization like the Key, given its mission, not respond to a teenager’s inquiry? Is there a logical reason for this? Are people too busy?

    I doubt that this is Northfield’s problem alone, of course. The point is that the responsibility for engaging our kids in creative and productive and healthy activities lies with the adults, where it’s always been. Are we too busy?

    July 13, 2007
  18. The very same thing happend to me and my husband when we moved here five years ago. We managed to find that we could volunteer for the worst possible jobs, which we did. It’s a hard town to break into, unless you have some particular in road.

    If your daughter would like to take a trip into Apple Valley with me sometime,
    I often go to JoAnn’s fabric store, Bachman’s flower shop, and the Barnes & Noble book store there. No traffic violations ever and I can provide references. Would love the company. I am both old and young. 🙂



    July 13, 2007
  19. Charlene Hamblin said:

    I would just like to say “Good Job” and “Keep up the great work” to Josh Hinnenkamp and all of the great members & young adults at the Key. No person or place can be everything to everyone, but as a parent of a pre-teen who finds the Key a comfortable place to be & hang-out with encouraging, and motivated members of the community, I support you endeavors fully – and encourage others to take note of all that you contribute to the community for out youth.

    July 13, 2007
  20. Randy Jennings said:

    In response to John (post #268), I’m not sure I agree with your closing statement:

    “The point is that the responsibility for engaging our kids in creative and productive and healthy activities lies with the adults, where it’s always been. Are we too busy?”

    First, thinking back just one generation to my teen years, there was much less structure and organization. The summer rules were generally something like, “here’s a bike (or a baseball glove, guitar or whatever), be home for dinner…” Sure there was Legion baseball and swimming lessons and other adult-organized activity, but the main event was learning to find things to do with one’s friends. (And yes, even then there were kids drawn toward dangerous behaviors. But then, like now, those kids were far and away the minority. One thing that’s been lost in the heroin hysteria is a distinction between heroin use as a serious problem for a small number of youth and adults — which it is — and the needs and behaviors of the vast majority of youth in our community, who are NOT involved in descructive drug use.)

    I’d argue that over time many kids have become accustomed to adults organizing too much activity. If kids are used to being tightly scheduled and managed, it can be a frustrating challenge for them to re-learn how to organize for themselves. This can sometimes be a painful process for parents to watch…

    Second, yes it is true that Nfld can be a tough nut to crack, especially without some natural point of connection like work, school, club or church. That said, taking the NAG or the Key as examples, there is a lot going on at both places, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that one call or contact asking about how to volunteer will be heard, much less acted upon. I’ve watched my son and daughter get involved at the Key over the past year, and I have to say that I have been very pleasantly surprised at how welcoming the Key has been to a wide range of kids. Have your daughter try again, perhaps by just showing up. If she persists, she probably won’t be disappointed.


    July 13, 2007
  21. Max Jennings said:

    Jeffery, I think that the problem was that we didn’t check the email given on the website was check as often as it should have been and some emails slipped though the cracks. The Key is an very open and welcoming environment and we are best in person, so encourage her to come on down and see the Key. Our hours are Monday-Friday:3:30-10:00PM and Saturday and Sunday:5:00-10:00PM
    Our program list is as follows:
    Mondays at 5:00PM: Book Club (They just started “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, and books are available at the Key).
    Tuesdays at 6:00PM: Art Night (Next Tuesday we will be making hemp bracelets and other hemp stuff).
    Wedsdays at 3:45PM:Youth Board Meeting (anyone is allow to sit in).
    Thursdays at 7:30PM: Writing Workshop (this program mostly runs during the school year mostly and is run by a Carleton student).
    Fridays at 7:00PM: Movie Night or Concerts
    Saturday at 7:00PM: Movie Night if there is a concert.

    July 13, 2007
  22. Charlene Hamblin said:

    Well said, Randy.

    July 13, 2007
  23. Luc Guerber said:

    To comment 270, i’m surprised. It’s unfortunate a youth’s contact to the key was not reciprocated. I wonder how she contacted the key? If she didn’t actually go there, that may be a better course of action. If she did then i’m very surprised. The key reflects the youth involved with it heavily, and i’ve come to understand it as a tool more than a location. People go there to have their ideas take form. If there’s a group of youth, ages 12 to 19 that want to do pretty much anything posative and drug free,(really, ANYTHING – running through shakespeare plays for fun, playing music, playing chess, writing, watching movies, etc.) then they can go to the key. The only question behind a program is whether or not their are enough people dedicated to it. I’ve always felt there are probably people out there that have the capacity to get something good out of the key (which is the same as putting something good into the key) but don’t bother. They key is about the people there, and it always starts with building relationships with key people. Every youth is a potential key person. You don’t necessarily call the key and ask “what’s on your agenda for me?” the question is “who’s around and what are they willing to do?”. Key board meetings are on Wednesday at 3:45 if any youth care to attend, ask questions, give suggestions and make friends. Of course, the key is drug free, and if anyone tells you otherwise, please correct them.

    July 13, 2007
  24. Zach Pruitt said:

    First off, I think it’s great that the Northfield Union of Youth/Key is holding a discussion on Monday evening and hope people are able to attend. I applaud the youth board there for their work in making this happen!

    I just wanted to mention a couple of items that came up at this week’s Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Alcohol & Drug Use meeting that may relate to a few posts here.

    The Mayor’s Task Force and the League of Women Voters are hosting another community discussion about this issue as part of the League’s 4th Monday series. The discussion will be held on Monday, July 23 at 7:00 p.m. at the Northfield Public Library. Look for more information to follow in the next couple of days from the League and the Task Force.

    For a number of years, the local drug and alcohol treatment providers have been – and continue to be – willing to talk with local groups about these issues, to share knowledge on available resources, and to answer questions. The most recent trainings were offered this spring for the medical community and for local teachers. However, past sessions have also been held with parents, social service providers, and youth service professionals. If you have groups who are interested in this, please let us know and we’d be happy to work with you to set it up.

    As was mentioned at the Task Force and by Dr. Richardson on the KYMN interview, the Northfield Public Schools and the Healthy Community Initiative (HCI) have conducted an annual school survey of youth that asks about their use of drugs and alcohol, their perceptions of use by peers, their perceptions of disapproval by peers, and their thoughts on how easy it is to obtain these substances. The survey is given to students in grades 6, 8, 9, and 11. The results are analyzed by Roger Jenni, the school district’s coordinator of testing and program assessment. These results are presented to community groups throughout the year. If individuals or groups are interested in these presentations, give us a call.

    Several bloggers have mentioned the importance of youth and adults continuing to talk about these issues, as well as other issues in the community (which is a research-based best practice in youth development). If there are ways that HCI can help/support these conversations among groups you know, give us a call – we’d be happy to do what we can to help support them.

    And again, if there are other ways that we can be helpful or if you have ideas/comments/suggestions, please don’t hesitate to give me or Julie Bubser (HCI Coordinators) a call (664-3524) or Kathy Sandberg (Rice County Family Services Collaborative – 507-333-6813).


    Zach Pruitt
    Coordinator, Northfield Healthy Community Initiative
    Staff support, Rice County Chemical Health Coalition

    July 13, 2007
  25. Lori Martin said:

    I like what you said here. The problem has not been having unstructured time. I would believe, it part, that the difference now might be partly that young people have not had enough opportunity to figure out how to manage that unstructured time. But that still doesn’t perfectly explain why some kids are willing to try a drug that they know can lead to horrendous consequences and why some students decide not to. I see fewer and fewer kids out playing as the years go by. I parents have become over protective (simply comparing parents of my childrens’ friends to parents of my friends growing up). I’m also guilty of being more protective than my parents. But that doesn’t mean everyone is always spending time with their children. More often it means keeping a very close guard on them while they are young…letting them stay indoors and find ways to keep them occupied vs. letting them roam over to the park unsupervised. I understand the fear. The media would have us believe that all of our children will be kidnapped. Of course this can’t be the explanation by itself either. I’d say, if we need to look towards one change, it’s always going to come down to culture. Sociologists often point to the strength of culture in shaping the values and behaviors of a generation. The culture easily has more influence than family. This makes sense, as it explains why I’m not like my grandma, or even my mother. We have all been shaped by the culture that surrounded our generation. The current generation of young people can hardly watch anything on television without getting messages of violence, sex, and drug use. Even several programs for young people have these messages, however hidden. Television is now marketing itself toward your infants. That’s pretty new and pretty freaky, since no pediatrician in America would approve of setting your infant in front of the television. T.V. in itself isn’t so bad, but we need to back up the average 3 hours that children spend watching t.v. daily with good, real-life discussions on culture, messages, values, and the tricks of marketing. We need to back it up with equally strong real-life playing and learning experiences and opportunities to develop critical thinking. (in brain scans, it has been noted that we use less of our brain in watching television than we do in sleeping…the frontal lobe is completely on vacation…this is the part of the brain that helps us eventually make sound decisions and it continues to develop usually into one’s twenties). It’s hard to compete with 3 hours of television. While t.v. can’t be argued to be so bad in itself, this leaves little time for those real experiences and conversations that can help young people develop critical and creative thinking skills, social skills, or really any skills. It takes extra effort for parents to find safe ways to keep their youngsters occupied once deciding to set limits to television and video games. It means getting nagged more often and occassionally wondering if you should let your kid walk to the park with friends and trust that they’ll come back okay.

    While I have no problem with the ideas of creating more activities for kids (who can say this is bad), I don’t think it will solve any new drug problems. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that simple? If we are really concerned, we need to think a little deeper in order to really understand this generation and the effects the current culture has had and continues to have on shaping their values, fears, beliefs, and behaviors. Encourage kids to start thinking critically about the mass of garbage and marketing that is thrown their way. Stop underestimating the power of fake experience (video games, television) in large doses on the developing mind. Somehow young people have come to believe (a few of them) that doing heroin is high-class. Where did this come from? This was NOT the belief my generation had. So it has nothing to do with drug education, which has largely stayed the same aside from adding new information on prescription drugs and meth. Somehow it is now easier to grow up with a false view of reality. And the more kids spend unengaged (as in not really doing something that requires them to continue in their development in any form, such as thinking, creating, discussing, or playing), the less able they are to respond to potentially harmful messages. Book smart does not equal good powers of judgement. I belief it is entirely possible to earn all A’s and not know how to make a good decision in the current culture that is fascinated by high marks, “success” for its own sake, earning power, narcissism, and almost anything but questioning new information and fads or deciding to discover some truth through our own experience. For starters, get rid of all marketing (Channel One if your schools have it) in the schools and make sure there are strong communications classes in place that help kids begin to question what they see presented in the magazines and television programs around them. Just because someone with a sexy voice sings about going to rehab does not mean that going to rehab is some common experience that is no big deal. This singer is a real person who is putting her own life in jeopardy and while she looks happy because she is successful and loaded with money, perhaps she is miserable. Etc. Engage kids in real-life experiences. This does not have to be structured. Encourage them to get started in a way that is meaningful to them (allow them to choose from many great options) and guide them with as little involvement as you can get by with. If we can gear kids towards engaging activities that we have not set up and entirely designed for them and that are not monitored by us each minute, kids might find value in their real-life opportunties for connecting with others, being constructive, useful, or creative. For some reason, some kids are taking the route of ultimate unengagement (blotting out reality with hard drugs). I doubt they have not had “activities” available to them. Adding more of the same thing will not produce different results. To get different results, it’s time to do something different. That means, not the same thing with another name or a slightly different spin. It’s time to really think outside the box. But that requires beginning to really understand this generation through from their perspective, as much as possible, and not from our perspective. My childhood was really quite different than those experienced by young people today. So I need to step back and figure out what is different….what needs to go, what needs to stay, where young people need guidance, and where they can find their strengths in new ways.

    July 13, 2007
  26. Lori Martin said:

    And keep thinking way ahead of the game. Treatment centers are necessary. But by the time someone is hooked on heroin, treatment or no treatment, the prognosis is not very good. I think we can all agree that the goal is to raise children to believe that something as dangerous as heroin is not even worth trying. Part of that is drug education and helping kids see how truly frightening this is (I might add that noone I went to treatment with some 15 years ago is clean or sober today…I feel very lucky). The other part is helping kids set up a life for themselves that feels engaging and purposeful and valuable. Treatment centers won’t cure the drug problem. They will help very, very few people (the treatment centers won’t tell you this). For those few people, they are important. And it is also important to give everyone the opportunity to get clean. But getting off hard drugs is obviously a lot harder than starting them. Look at treatment options in Northfield, as they are probably needed. But this should be a relatively small part of the focus in looking at this problem.

    July 13, 2007
  27. Jeffrey W. Tenney said:

    Zach –

    I enjoyed reading your comments, and I would agree that the problem is largely cultural. You sound like someone who has run the gauntlet of pop culture diversions while trying to raise children to think differently.

    I think Northfield and other places have much of the architecture in place for involving kids in healthy activities, but the apparatus is not enough. The adults running the apparatus have to run it well, which requires having the time and energy for it. A kid reaching out for a healthy connection most likely needs an adult to make that connection happen.

    Thanks, again, for your thoughtful essay.

    July 13, 2007
  28. Lori Martin said:

    to Tyson W.,
    I don’t buy into the boredom excuse either. Thank you for pointing out a likely problem in articulating the real “why.” One young person stated boredom as the reason, but then also said more activities will not help because he is an athlete…he is already busy. So I do not mean to criticize him or tell him that he is wrong. I’d only hope he could continue to survey the issue from his perspective so that he could someday help himself and help others better understand. Those in the midst of current drug use are certainly worth listening to, but they are not usually able to articulate the real reasons for their drug use. If they were, they would likely stop or ask for help. All superficial excuses make it okay to keep using. Truth is, many people get hooked to the high. So we can all understand that. The problem is why do some kids decide it is worth the risk? Why have they somehow let themselves fall into making such risky decisions? We know the frontal lobe is continuing to develop through adolescence and this is why kids need all the help and guidance they can get in making good choices. Parents and friends should be asking lots of questions…staying involved in a way that shows interest and concern but not controlling their every move. I would like to know why an athlete would believe that trying heroin would not cause any problems for him. Or why problems would be okay? I am not criticizing this young man. I would like to better understand. This means asking different questions and encouraging young people to articulate what is really going on. Boredom is an answer, but it’s not the root of the problem. As long as one continues to use and justify use, they won’t likely understand it themselves. So hopefully those who have avoided temptation or who have come off drugs will be able to share their insights. Once in a while you can find an honest drug user who has some real clarity about the situation. But most often, when it comes to drug use, the explanations are clouded with blaming and justification. This is not to criticize the user. This is simply the nature of drug use and especially of addiction. Users and addicts can begin to understand the root of the issue (the reason why they need to blot out reality or why getting high is worth all the risk, etc), but it often takes good questions to get them there. A simply “why” will get you a simple answer.

    July 13, 2007
  29. Lori Martin said:

    to Jeffrey,

    thanks for sharing your daughter’s experience. Simply responding to people is a matter of courtesy that seems to be undervalued in too many places in every city. It sounds like your daughter had a stream of bad luck, but I applaud her for making efforts to connect in a new town. It’s challenging to move in high school, but her continued efforts to connect will help her develop those needed resources for a move to college and a place of work beyond that.

    I hope others hear this message and wake up. Responding to inquiries is simply NOT difficult, and in the cases you described, it was the responsibility. Encourage your daughter to keep trying. It sounds like you’re doing well to help her connect and find a place for herself in a new town. Check with the hospital or nursing homes or elementary schools. There might be a couple young people who could use a summer or after-school reading mentor or an elderly person who can no longer read his or her favorite parts of the newspaper but would love to have someone come in and read for them and simply “be there” for a while. Best wishes to you and your daughter.

    July 13, 2007
  30. Marie Fischer said:

    Adding on to what Zach said (275), the Key is indeed holding a discussion on everything surrounding heroin, drugs, and youth. Adults are welcome (as always) and we hope to have a very interesting conversation between age groups, and we hope that we can look forward to asking each other questions. The discussion will be Monday at 7:00 (sorry if this is short notice) at the Key. Every regular poster on Locally Grown seems to be very involved in this topic, and I hope some of you could make it.

    July 13, 2007
  31. not given said:

    Hello again.

    I had a great conversation with Mr. Wigley, and I would just like to say that he’s a great guy for making this blog available to the public of northfield. For a man with no connections to the problem he shows a genuine concern for this town and the issues at hand. Finally i feel there is now a forum for people to express themselves. From my experience Northfield is a town where people tend to turn the other cheek and just kind of give off the impression that “it couldn’t happen here”. I really aprreciate this forum and everyones comments.

    I struggle with addiction everyday of my life and am one of the lucky ones who is living sober a day at a time. There is a saying in A.A./N.A. and it goes something like, drugs/alcohol gets you no where in life but jails instituions and death..i once heard it described as being locked up, sobered up, or covered up. Thats all you get in the life of addiction and i hope for any addicts reading this they make a cry for help!! If your too scared to go to someone you love or trust find an A.A. meeting and ask for help or suggestions.

    If that doesn’t work for you i strongly strongly suggest Omada Behavioral Health (i think thats the title) haha….But go and talk to Sarah Shippy…That is a woman who would give you the shirt off her back..anything you need as far as help.. Go get an assesment and please do what you can to get help. I shot dope for two years. lots of dope a day..I tryed three inpatients and now this time I am working a program (A.A.) and have a sponser. I also started Opiate Replacement Therapy. I am using Buprenorphine on a maintence dosage.

    Ask a professional for help ask anyone that loves you or vice versa!! ASK ME! And parents/loved ones/guardians..Make it known that you will do your best to understand and that addiction is a disease…Tell them how far you’d go for them to get well, get help, to get your old child back!! Alot of kids and young adults, hell even adults think their parents just won’t understand. Make it known that you want them to do the best they can in life..even if you think they already know it!! If anyone has questions please ask i’d love to help anyone in need.. Take care of yourselves and God Bless..

    July 13, 2007
  32. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks, NG, I appreciate that. I, too, enjoyed our conversation last night — getting to know you a little and hearing your story. And I found that the information you provided was, once again, very helpful in my understanding of the Northfield situation. I hope you can keep tabs on what happens next and that I get a chance to meet you soon.

    I sure hope you can stay clean and sober. You’ve got a great life ahead of you and, based on what you’ve demonstrated here so far, you could really help others recover and maybe even avoid the hell you’ve been through.

    July 13, 2007
  33. Griff Wigley said:

    So many of you have made comments that I’d like to respond to (agree, applaud, argue, ask questions). It’s frustrating to not have enough time, but I guess that’s a good problem to have.

    I’m hoping that the Star Tribune does another article on this issue sometime in the next few days, this time a comprehensive take on all that’s happened since this story began 3 weeks ago.

    If and when that happens, I’ll start a new blog post and invite the discussion to continue there, as this thread is taking a long time to load.

    Hope to see many of you Monday night at The Key for the discussion. Max and Marie, thanks for posting the info here. I’ve blogged it.

    July 13, 2007
  34. anonymous said:

    I’d like to stay anonymous only out of respect for the traditions of AA, but would like to say congrats to “not given” on giving the 12-step program a shot. I became willing to go to any length when drugs and alcohol were quickly but surely wrecking my life on every front. I’ve been clean and sober for more than a decade. I lost all desire to get drunk or high a long time ago. No interest at all. Too many other things to do and enjoy! “not given”, the “promises” do come true. Don’t leave the program until you find that out for yourself. Anyone else: if you’re fighting an addiction, consider a meeting (AA, NA, OA, GA, etc). Unlike treatment (which helped me dry out a few times), it’s free. You are sure to get help from others who know addictions because they have been there and found a way out (not read about it in a book). Check your local directory. As for families trying to wrap their minds around how to help an addicted loved one, I would encourage you to give Al-anon a shot. Same thing….getting direction and support from people who’ve been in your shoes and have found a way to deal.

    July 14, 2007
  35. Holly Cairns said:

    Also, I am hoping Monday’s meeting at the Key will focus on Heroin and (maybe) prescription drug abuse. We could spend a lot of time talking about drugs in general– etc. To me, there will always be drug usage and abuse and so I’d like to focus on heroin, as I think that is a particularly bad drug…

    I wouldn’t want to argue all night about marijuana or drug legalization, which I don’t really care all that much about…

    July 14, 2007
  36. Marie Fischer said:

    No worries, Holly. The Youth Board is going to write up a loose agenda for us to stick to and it will consist mostly of heroin topics.

    July 14, 2007
  37. Griff Wigley said:

    Mayor Lee Lansing, Joan Janusz and Kathy Cooper, members of the Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Alcohol and Drug Use, have a commentary piece in today’s Northfield News:

    In the fight against heroin, we’re all in this together

    The first step is to learn more. On Monday, July 23 there will be a learning and dialoging opportunity through the 4th Monday discussion of the League of Women Voters. In partnership with the Mayor’s Task Force, this discussion will help Northfield community members learn about what is already being done and about ways to get involved. It provides the opportunity to ask questions and give valuable input. The discussion will be held at the Northfield Library beginning at 7:00 pm.

    July 14, 2007
  38. It is good to see a community rally up for this issue.
    And I would like to make sure that the users and former users get a
    hearty round of good wishes and appreciation for their coming forward.
    It is an invaluable effort. And although it takes plenty of courage
    sometimes to be and stay sober and straight over anyone’s lifetime,
    it takes a special selflessness to step up and say “I made a mistake,
    and I am here to say, please don’t follow in my path.” How many of us
    are willing to do that in our daily affairs when we walk upon a
    shady trail? That kind of thing usually occurs only after we get
    caught, if then.

    Anyway, I would also like people to keep in mind that although the
    groups and the organizations and the service people are all an
    important part of gtting things done, in the end, it is the in
    dividual person that needs attention.

    Each individual
    is different and may require a very wholistic approach to healing,
    taking into consideration personal beliefs, habits, culture and
    dreams for the future. In other words, the mind, body and spirit
    of the addict must be considered, and considered on an individual
    basis very attentively.

    Much of this understanding should be realized even before the addict approaches the agency where they will be receiving support.

    It is my sincerest hope that what I have said is already known,
    but I hope to remind anyone who may have forgotten as part my
    contribution to this discussion.


    July 14, 2007
  39. Christine Stanton said:

    I thought this was interesting in respect to how the community is reacting to the heroin “news.” I also want to say that I do not believe that feelings are good or bad. It is what we do with those feelings that can be labeled good or bad. Telling someone that they should not feel a certain way is not helpful. Our emotions, however, can be changed by altering the way we think about something. Those emotions can also be altered by the actions we take in response to our emotions.


    “This emotional cycle is not exclusive to the terminally ill, it also affects people and communities impacted by bad news. The important factor is not that the change is good or bad, but that the person or community perceives it as a significantly negative event.”

    In my personal experiences I have learned that change brings grief. Each time we are forced to deal with a new reality, we experience grief. In that way, we all experience many “griefs” throughout our lifetime. The publicity of heroin use among youth and young adults in Northfield is a new reality for many of us. No matter what the numbers are, it is natural that we would experience feelings of denial and anger.

    July 15, 2007
  40. Rebecca Tofte said:

    Hi Grif
    What do I need to stop getting a million emails?
    I just wnat to be able to go on when I have time??

    July 16, 2007
  41. Griff Wigley said:

    Frank, I’ve moderated your comment, as your tone was hostile and not anywhere near the spirit of constructive discussion that we want to foster here.

    July 17, 2007
  42. Griff Wigley said:

    I’m halting further comments to this blog post since:

    * It’s getting a bit unwieldy, with so many related issues/subtopics

    * It’s taking a long time to load the nearly 300 comments

    * There are other blog posts here on Locally Grown where people can comment on this issue.

    But I must say, I’m really pleased with both the quality and quantity of contributions from such a wide variety of citizens. Thank you everyone, and I hope you’ll continue to participate.

    July 17, 2007

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