District Day: Coffee, Cops, and the Opioid Crisis

This is my last e-update of the session. Today we are talking about small businesses, taser training, drugs, recovery, and more. We had a fantastic District Day on the 25th, and learned some powerful information along our way.


 Learning More at Cabin Coffee

Are you a coffee lover? Our first stop of the day was to fuel up at Cabin Coffee in Altoona. I met with owner Joe Gribowski to talk about some of the hardships small businesses have faced in the last few years. Click here to watch the full interview.

 

Small businesses make our communities what they are. As a small business owner and member of the Small Business Development committee, I am passionate about this. THANK you to our small business owners for your contributions to our neighborhoods.

This session, the Legislature passed our Stronger Workforce package, and small businesses had state and federal funds to help them through. We are so grateful that we are over the worst of this pandemic.

 

 

Joe also showed me their bean room, where they can roast up to 2 pounds of beans in 20 minutes for sale and their use in the store. I was amazed to see these green beans from all over the world, and to learn about the precise moisture content that these farmers and roasters deal with. I'll never look at my cup of joe the same way again!

Don't forget to shop small when you can and support our small businesses.


Taser Exposures at CVTC Police Academy


These brave young men and women are students at my alma mater, the Chippewa Valley Technical College Police Academy. I had the honor of joining them for a day of training for our second stop, and yes, I even joined them in being subjected to a taser exposure. I hadn't experienced this since my officer training years ago, and let me tell you, it HURT!
Video coming soon from this stop.

Did you know that we have the lowest number of law enforcement officers in our state in a decade? I am proud that we passed our Supporting Law Enforcement package this session. Police officers have received a lot of hatred and negativity the last two years, which makes it even more commendable that these young men and women are pursuing this career.

 

 

These test taser exposures are conducted by attaching two nodes to each individual's clothing, and can last up to five seconds. The volts of electricity cause the muscles to clench up, immobilizing the subject.

You may ask yourself - WHY do these future officers choose to go through with this, even though it is optional?

First, as a cop, we have to know our tools so that we can be prepared. Tasers are a helpful, nonlethal measure in a dangerous situation. Second, experiencing this effect creates empathy for an officer. We need to know what we are exposing people to and what it feels like in a real-world situation. It's crucial for those who choose this profession that they take advantage of these types of opportunities. You better understand the tools that can be used in the course of your day at work.

Why did I do it? I am happy to show support in any way possible and to give attention to our police force. I am still a cop and I will always #BackTheBadge. Plus, I had to show these young bucks that they aren't the only tough ones out there. The average age in the class was 22 years old. 

 

 

I was able to ask the students what they thought their most valuable tool they have on their person is as a cop. Many don't know this answer...but I told them them that their mouth is. The most valuable lesson you can learn as a cop is to use your mouth wisely, because it can make or break any incident. Your words matter! What you say and how you say it matters. Use it wisely.

We asked the young man pictured below (middle photo), Nathaniel Strader, WHY he chose this career field. Nathaniel has military and fire experience as well. He mentioned that when he shows up in a fire truck, he is welcomed as a hero, whereas when he shows up in a cop car, he is met with a different attitude. Even so, this young man stated that what he likes most about this field is being able to help people.

It was great seeing law enforcement academy director Eric Anderson. A lot of knowledge and expertise in this guy. Thank you for taking my calls and answering my questions, Eric. You are a valuable asset to CVTC and our community.


Our final mission of the day was to talk about the opioid crisis. This term gets thrown around a lot. What we have been dealing with as a state and a nation has come about because we have over-prescribed opioid medications in the last few decades. The waves of addiction that have come from this epidemic have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

In Wisconsin, more people die of opioid overdoses each year than in car crashes.

We sat down at the Chippewa Falls Police Department with Chief Kelm, Aaron Ranallo from the West Central Drug Task Force, Tom Diel from Chippewa County DHS, Daniel Erickson, a peer support counselor, Laurel, Tom, and Ryan, all amazing recovering individuals in connection with Take A Stand Against Meth, and my friend Rep. Rob Summerfield. 

 

Chief Kelm and Aaron Ranallo caught us up on the status of opioids in the Chippewa Valley. Heroin and especially meth have been most prevalent, but in recent years, fentanyl has increased. Both Kelm and Ranallo shared that though less common than other drugs, fentanyl mixed with heroin or other substances is what is causing the most overdose deaths. This legislative session, we imposed higher penalties for fentanyl and legalized fentanyl testing strips. We need to save lives.

Fentanyl is simply too potent. One pill, one small trace can kill (see photo below). Our recovering friends present all agreed that they were grateful that fentanyl was not a problem for them. One individual said, "I really think if this fentanyl epidemic was as bad as I was using, I'd probably be dead."

 

Above: the small vial on the right (represented with flour) is just 2 milligrams, a deadly amount of fentanyl. What a perspective!

 

Below: tools for drug investigations, including fentanyl test strips, an electronic multi-drug test, and Narcan (Naloxone), which can quickly revive an individual. Chief Kelm keeps this Narcan holster on his belt at all times.

 

It was helpful to hear stories from those present who have overcome and are overcoming addiction.

Laurel was a nursing student from a loving family when she came to terms with alcohol abuse in her life. Daniel was a new dad with a normal life when he spiraled into drug abuse. They emphasized that no one is immune from addiction. We asked Tom, Laurel, Daniel, and Ryan what they wanted people to know about the stigma of substance use:

"What I want people to know about the opioid crisis, in general, is that it can affect everyone, it doesn't matter your race, socioeconomic, or educational status..." 

"It goes a lot further than your typical needle-junkie, homeless person persona..."

"Essentially I got addicted in a doctor's office. I went in for pain and sleep issues I was having. I found out, 'Hey, these [drugs] work really well with that depression and loss that I felt.' I still had a 9-to-5 and white picket fence kind of life...

 

Some helpful recovery tools for these individuals were medication-assisted treatment, needle exchange programs, Narcan, group therapy, and counseling. They stressed that community support is important. It's not just one factor, but many different forms of support combining together that can help people recover. They all agreed that it is both exciting and important that the conversation around addiction and mental health struggles is growing.

 

Tom (pictured below, right) was an addict from a young age and eventually began to mix heroin and cocaine. He had already survived six overdoses when he flipped his car multiple times, came out of a coma, and decided he needed a different life. He was given fentanyl in the hospital and had to receive treatment to come off of it. We asked him what he wanted people to know. He said,

"There's life afterwards, there is recovery. It's not easy, it takes commitment and community support...I started getting clean, and started living my life, and a lot of ups and downs happened. To have that relationship with my counselor was really important because I wasn't going at it alone."

 

 

Finally, we talked to Chippewa County Human Services' Tom Diel, who has 35 years of experience in the mental health field. He said:

"Relationships create change, and that's where we need to start out at. It takes time. The research shows us that people who are successful in their treatment develop relationships with their counselor...that was one thing that was missing during COVID is the community connection; people were isolated in their homes or apartments...and that's why we saw some influx in crisis and mental health needs"

"We need to take a step away from shaming people with a substance use or mental health disorder, because when we do that we're cause them to keep the closet door shut."

 

Have you or someone you love been struggling with mental health or substance issues? Here is a list of resources in the Chippewa Valley. I want to encourage you that there is hope. Reach out to a friend or someone knowledgeable. You are not alone.


So if the opioid crisis has gotten worse because of over-medication, how do we manage pain without throwing pills at our problems? We spoke with Dr. Lona from Cook Chiropractic about how to live healthy lives. Let's get to the root of the issue!

Dr. Lona was adamant that we take simple, daily steps for our health. We need to learn to LISTEN to our bodies. Over the years, we have gotten disconnected from ourselves because of advancements in medicine and technology.

 

Our solution to everything doesn’t necessarily come in pill form. Dr. Cook pointed out that it can be as simple as drinking enough water (this was her #1 tip!), stretching and exercising, taking care of our spiritual life, and finding that inner peace. Is your body telling you anything? Look at the big picture and see what it might be trying to say about your emotional, mental, or physical habits.


Drug Takeback Day

One of the best ways to combat the opioid crisis is to encourage the community to get rid of opioids and prescription drugs in the home, which prevents drug abuse. This last last October, Wisconsin drug takeback collection was #1 in the U.S. (*57,377 pounds of unwanted medications!). The photo below is a drug deposit box at the Chippewa Falls Police Department. Find a drop box near you and participate in the next National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, happening April 30, 2022, from 10am-2pm. 

*Source: WI DOJ


Isaac Pischer - Newest Eagle!

I want to thank the Pischer family for their hospitality, as I was not able to attend Isaac’s Eagle Scout Award banquet on Sunday. I was able to do an in-person ceremony with him.

These are one of my favorite things to do as your Representative. I love seeing the youth leadership, their characteristics, and the love the family puts into their success.
Isaac and a team of supporters helped clean up the trail behind the Town of Lafayette hall. Investing for the future and the environment. What a gift for the community and beyond.
Way to go Isaac and CONGRATULATIONS on earning your Eagle Award.

Session Sign Off

Well, guess what? I am finally going on vacation. My wife and I will be spending some hard-earned time off for a few days. It is important to tend to your family, your marriage, and to restore your soul. Don't forget to hold your loved ones close and to enjoy the sunshine and warmer weather.

I am looking forward to getting back to work next week for the 68th. THANK YOU for allowing me to represent you, and as always, if there is any way I can be of help to you, feel free to contact my office.

This will be my last e-update for the session due to laws that limit how much I can send out mass communications to constituents during campaign seasons. If you did not receive my spring newsletter and would like a physical copy, email me at rep.james@legis.wisconsin.gov.

 


 Wisconsin News:

Homeowners: Get Help Paying Overdue Housing-Related Bills

Veterans: Get a Veteran Identifier on your Driver's License

DNR: Very High Fire Danger Around Wisconsin Right Now

DHS: Prevent Opioid Harm | Drug Takeback Day

 

I hope this information is helpful. If there is anything I can ever do, please do not hesitate to reach out. 

 

Respectfully,

 

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