Members of the community met last Wednesday to discuss forming a coalition to better assess and solve the problems facing youth in Monroe County.
Fifty-nine community figureheads attended the meeting at the Monroe County Annex Building, including superintendents, mayors, police officers and school board members.
Attendees heard Ken McManus, a family counselor from St. Louis; Bill Rebholz, local boy scout leader and businessman; and Monroe County Coroner Vicki Koerber address the county’s problems with substance abuse and how to move forward to form a coalition.
Koerber said when she came on board as the coroner, she began inquiring about overdoses after some numbers started coming across her desk.
“I went to Monroe County EMS and they ran, in one year, over 30,” she said. “If you average that out, that’s more than one overdose every two weeks. It was really red flags all over for me.”
She worked with other organizations to bring a panel of speakers to Monroe County schools and talk to students about the dangers of heroin.
“Education is the best weapon,” she said. “And we’re concerned with what we’re seeing.”
Rebholz said that while he knows this effort won’t happen overnight, the meeting was a start.
“We need to really wrap our arms around these kids and love ‘em,” he said. “They’re not the ones who pass the ordinances, enforce laws or decide the curriculum, but they’re the ones who have to deal with the prevalence of drugs and the situations they find themselves in.”
McManus kicked off his presentation by polling the participants about how they perceive Monroe County’s problems with drug abuse, educational programs and overall knowledge of conditions.
The variation and difference in answers showed how differently the attendees perceived substance abuse in the community.
McManus used the Flood of 1993 as an example of how the community should come together for this coalition.
“You guys moved a whole town, didn’t you?” he asked in reference to Valmeyer. “The efforts could be comparable.”
Though heroin is talked about in newspapers and online in the St. Louis region, McManus said it is difficult to track because it has “reinvented itself” in different formats and is no longer a “back-alley” drug.
“Part of getting together as an organization and a community is realizing we’re all vulnerable,” he said. “Sometimes it’s the best and the brightest that get hit.”
One of the biggest aspects of getting the prospective coalition to work is getting all different kinds of people from all different parts of the community on board, McManus said.
“We need to share resources,” he said. “We all tend to do the things we need to do to keep the lights on where we are, but coalition-building requires that we continue that, but also extend it.”
The first step after gathering a wide variety of community members will be to gather data, McManus told the attendees.
“Once we have the data, we can have an informed conversation about strategic planning,” he said. “We have to have a vision and be able to communicate that vision.”
Change will come about when the attitude toward the community’s youth shifts and positive behavior is enforced, he said.
Some factors may include whether or not a child feels valued or noticed by their family and friends in a positive way.
“We need to emphasize positives and opportunities,” he said. “It’s a whole lot easier to influence people in the direction of something to do, as opposed to tell them to stop doing something.”
McManus wants to help Monroe County residents target the things that feed substance abuse, not substance abuse itself.
He said figuring out who will lead the coalition, who will be a part of it and what the current ideas and possible misconceptions are the next steps.
“We need to level the field and make sure we have consistent data,” McManus said. “We need to figure out what is happening and why.”
The attendees agreed with McManus’ presentation and as a group decided they wanted to continue the movement.
The group plans to meet again on Dec. 2 from 4-5:30 p.m. at the Monroe County YMCA to figure out the next level in forming this coalition.