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Red Lake Drug and Gang Summit highlights illegal prescription abuse problems

Kelly Brunelle, a criminal investigator in Red Lake, presented information about crime and prevention at the annual Drug & Gang Summit Tuesday at the Seven Clans Casino in Red Lake. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Taking prescription drugs for nonmedical use is something Colin "Kelly" Brunelle, criminal investigator at Red Lake, takes very seriously.

He spoke on this topic in front of a large group at the annual Drug & Gang Summit in Red Lake Tuesday morning, stating law enforcement alone cannot stop the drug abuse problem.

"We've had some deaths on the reservation because of prescription drug abuse," he said during his talk. "We can only do so much."

The fifth annual Drug & Gang Summit continues today and Thursday at the Seven Clans Casino in Red Lake.

The White Earth Reservation Tribal Council passed a proclamation Jan. 31 declaring a public health emergency with respect to prescription medication and illegal drug abuse.

Red Lake Reservation Chairman Floyd "Buck" Jourdain Jr. said Tuesday the Red Lake Reservation has been working with the White Earth Reservation to combat prescription drug and illegal drug abuse problems in north-central Minnesota.

Prescription medication abuse involves the nonmedical use of any prescription-type pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants or sedatives. Over-the-counter substances are not included.

"If someone is using them as a narcotic or something to get high from, then they are not using it for what it was meant for," Brunelle said. "All of Indian Country has a prescription drug use problem."

Brunelle said people assume taking doctor-prescribed medication that is not their own often do not consider their actions as dangerous.

"People don't realize what they are taking and don't realize they could possibly have an overdose," Brunelle said.

Brunelle said he commends Jourdain noticing the drug use problem.

"We need to sit down as a community with our law enforcement, pharmacy and with our hospital and try and work out a plan," Brunelle said. "It's not getting any better unless we do something now. It is not possible for law enforcement to do this alone."

When asked how the declared "state of emergency" will affect law enforcement on the reservation, Brunelle said the pharmacy and hospital will now be "forced" to work with law enforcement to come up with a plan to overcome this problem.

"You've got to also realize the hospital and the pharmacy are the source of (the problem). It's not the only source, but it plays a major role," Brunelle said.

Tom Barrett, executive director of Red Lake Chemical Health Programs, was the master of ceremonies at the Drug & Gang Summit. He said the Red Lake Reservation has worked with the Leech Lake and White Earth Indian Reservations on health issues in the past, which has resulted in positive collaboration.

"We take clients from other reservations and we send them clients," Barrett said. "We help each other out. It's all about helping people."

Now with tribal councils coming together on the issue of drug abuse, Barrett said, Red Lake has more "leeway" and more encouragement to take the next step in overcoming and preventing subscription drug abuse.

When Barrett first started his employment with Red Lake Chemical Health Programs, he said he saw mostly alcohol and marijuana dependency among drug users.

"Then crack cocaine came storming in a few years back," he said. "Now (it is) prescription drugs."

Every time health officials think they are winning a battle, Barrett said, a new war on a different drug starts up again.

"You have to adjust," Barrett added. "In this field we are constantly educating people on how to treat. We are constantly upping our skills because you never know what is going to be next. We are always keeping our eyes and ears on what is out there. We try not to be caught off guard."

According to a national survey, taken in 2009 on drug use and health, from the United States' Department of Health and Human Services, over half of the nonmedical users of prescription-type drugs aged 12 or older received the drugs "from a friend or relative for free." The majority of these respondents also admitted their friend or relative had obtained the drugs from one doctor.

Topics to be covered today at the fifth annual Drug & Gang Summit in Red Lake include alcohol, opiates and other drugs in Minnesota, the importance of education, gang identification and gang intervention.