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Youth counselor educates on area drug use

Social worker Mark Kuleta uses a baseball bat to help illustrate that drugs are a game changer for our youth. Kuleta spoke on "What's Up with Youth Drug Use in the Local Area" on Friday morning at the 2014 Evergreen Conference. Monte Draper/Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI -- States across the nation are catching on to the medical marijuana craze. What will legalization mean to the future -- not only of the country, but of our youth?

The theme of Evergreen Youth and Family Services annual conference at the Sanford Center was “promoting positive youth development.” Thursday and Friday youth counselors, educators and caregivers heard from experts in a plethora of fields that affect the evolution of young people. Mark Kuleta, a social worker with Cass Lake-Bena Schools, addressed the topic of youth drug use.

“You have to listen like you mean it,” Kuleta said.

Kuleta has been working with the Cass Lake-Bena Schools for 16 years, during that time he ran the sober school when it was in operation. Four years ago he started working with middle school students.

“If somebody asked me what working with the average kid is like, I can’t tell you unfortunately,” Kuleta said. “Because I don’t work with the average kid.”

The youth Kuleta sees daily live in meth houses, are cutters, drug users, alcoholics and have behavioral, chemical and mental health issues. It is not uncommon for youth to have “poly drug use” which is making detox and rehabilitation difficult, Kuleta said. It is also not uncommon for young people to have dual mental and chemical health issues.

Kuletta said law enforcement, mental health and medical health fields don’t run into each other necessarily and data does not cross paths. The result is overdose incident rates at an emergency room may not be the same as a survey results or arrest records.

Kuleta said 55 percent of high school seniors regularly drink alcohol. The problem is not so much what they’re drinking but how -- binge drinking to get drunk.

One high school student he counseled was in a car accident. Drunk and running from law enforcement one night she downed a handful of pills. She overdosed and was sent to a hospital in Duluth.

After Kuleta picked her up and brought her home, because the family did not have a car, her mother asked if she had been prescribed any opiates. Her mother was an addict. A year and a half later the girl was bailed out of jail and her mother died from an opiate overdose.

A Minnesota Department of Health student survey of middle and high school students showed statewide 53.3 percent of students surveyed reported using alcohol, as did 50.9 percent in Beltrami County and 58 percent in Cass County. Marijuana use was at 30.8 percent statewide, 22 percent in Beltrami County and 37 percent in Cass County. Opiates ranked at 8 percent statewide, one percent in Beltrami County and 8 percent of students surveyed in Cass County.

Kuleta said a misconception of drug dealers is that they are on the street, that it’s a drug kingpin or the head of a drug cartel exposing youth to drugs. Oftentimes, it’s actually a relative. Kuleta said another place children are exposure to drugs is on television, referencing Homer Simpson and his frequent stops at Moe’s.

“There are only two countries on the planet that allow advertising of pharmaceuticals,” Kuleta said. “USA and New Zealand.”

Centers for Disease Control reports opiate deaths are up 300 percent since 1999. Kuleta said opiates were created to treat terminal illness. He added club drugs, like Ecstasy and Ketamine aren’t as prevalent in the area. However, heroin, which is opiate based, is a huge problem.

“Here’s good ol’ heroin, it’s back with a vengeance,” Kuleta said. “We have a cartel that is running it straight to Minneapolis from Mexico. Minnesota does.”

Kuleta said he doesn’t know why that is the situation but it’s here and it’s available in Red Lake, out west and on the Iron Range.

“The Range is full of opiate and heroin addicted people,” Kuleta said.

Kuleta collected survey results from seven adolescent inpatient and outpatient programs, four chemical dependency assessors and two youth support services that deal with chemical dependency issues. Although Kuleta had statistics for the Native American population alone, he said the race factor needs to be removed.

“When you’re born a certain color, that’s not indicative of what you’re going to do later in life,” Kuleta said. “Because if you say something about race you start to forget about the real reasons something’s going on.”

The three main drugs youths are using are alcohol, marijuana and pills. However, they’re also using synthetic marijuana, stimulants, depressants, inhalants and drinking Listerine and hand sanitizer.

“This is hand sanitizer. Kids drink this, they told me about it,” Kuleta said. “When you throw up it’s bubbly. It’s worse coming out than it is going down.”

Youths have explained to Kuleta how they crush pills, dilute them in water, filter through a cigarette filter (to keep from shooting chunks into their veins) and inject the liquid much like they would heroin. They are also snorting and smoking the drugs.

“The good news is, most stuff is going down,” Kuleta said. “Two things that have leveled off are alcohol and marijuana.”

That was until 2010 when marijuana started rising again.

“Marijuana is the drug of the year,” Kuleta said. “At this time, there is no true medical marijuana.”

Kuleta said the marijuana of today is not the same plant as it was in the past. In fact, there are two new strains due to extensive hybridization. Plants are larger and more potent, THC content averages 10 to 15 times higher than it was 30 years ago, Kuleta said.

Although there are no confirmed deaths related to ingestion of marijuana, 30 to 40 percent of driving deaths in California were people who had marijuana in their system. Kuleta also pointed out that the drug is not legal in many foreign countries like some people think.

“Colorado is the only place on the planet with legal recreational marijuana,” Kuleta said. “Amsterdam has ‘weed cafes.’ This doesn’t help our kids.”

Marijuana has been decriminalized in Minnesota, possession is a civil infraction.

While studies on the addictiveness of marijuana are inconclusive, Kuleta said putting any smoke into your lungs is bad. Since the DEA classifies marijuana as a schedule one drug, money is not available to conduct further testing.

“If they get that stuff as a schedule two, we can study it more,” Kuleta said.

Fueling the push to legalize, and tax the drug, is money. In the first month Colorado made marijuana legal, 59 retailers made $2 million in tax revenue. Kuleta said $40 million is scheduled to go to schools. Sales are projected to reach $1 billion this year.

“It’s all about the money,” Kuleta said.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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