Everyone Working Together
Kenosha County Executive Samantha Kerkman and Kenosha County Behavioral Health Manager Kari Foss
Kenosha County Executive Samantha Kerkman and Kenosha County’s Behavioral Health Manager Kari Foss discuss the ongoing opioid epidemic and efforts to address that and other substance abuse issues in Kenosha County, Wisconsin. Ms. Kerkman and Ms. Foss propose that working together to bring the county resources to those who need them, where they live, is what will make the difference in the lives of those they serve. The Mental Health and Substance Resource Center in Kenosha County can be reached at 262-764-8555, Kenosha Human Development Services – (khds.org), and all of the Kenosha County services can be viewed at https://www.kenoshacounty.org.
If you or a loved one needs help, it is available. To contact the Hope Council on Alcohol & Other Drug Abuse, call 262-658-8166, or explore their website at https://www.hopecouncil.org. You can also find AA meetings here: https://mtg.area75.org/meetings.html?dist=7 and NA meetings here: https://www.sefana.net/meetings.php
[00:00:00] [Jaunty Music]
[00:00:12] Mike: Welcome everyone to Avoiding the Addiction Affliction brought to you by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition. I'm Mike McGowan. We've talked a lot here lately in conversations about the ongoing opiate and street drug epidemic in our country and state. We're gonna continue that discussion today and get into other issues with two very special guests, Kenosha County Executive Samantha Kerkman and Kenosha County's Behavioral Health Manager, Kari Foss have joined us today. Welcome ladies.
[00:00:41] Samantha: Thank you for having us.
[00:00:42] Kari: Yes. Thanks Mike. And glad to be a part of this and to allow your listeners to hear what we have to say.
[00:00:47] Mike: That's great. Samantha, let me start with you. If you don't mind. I know that we'll, we'll talk about alcohol and other drugs later, but we focused on the opiate and fentanyl epidemic lately.
[00:00:58] This is, I know a concern for you in your.
[00:01:01] Samantha: It is, this has been an issue that we've been facing for many years. And it just seems to have really taken, hold over the last again, since before COVID and right now through COVID. But there are three, you know, key issues that I really wanna talk about.
[00:01:15] It, the mental health and substance resource centers are available here in Kenosha County. Kari's here to talk a little bit more about that and if people really need help please reach out to us. That phone number is (262) 764-8555. Again, people needing services, please reach out to us.
[00:01:34] That's the first message. Recovery is I know that I have talked to constituents of mine over the years who have gone down a path. Who at rock bottom and are now today, you know, married and have kids and working and are doing great. And so I really want to stress that recovery is possible. And three, collaboration is key.
[00:02:00] It is working with our local partners here. You know, people like Kari, our law enforcement, medical staff and human services but also the collaboration between the layers of government local state and federal that is really important to me. My knowledge from the state perspective, Attending meetings in Madison through many years.
[00:02:20] And then, you know, Congressman Bryan Steil, I know he was on your podcast a little while ago. Again, it is important to work with our, our other partners at different levels to bring resources here to Kenosha County.
[00:02:33] Mike: Yeah. The drugs don't care what political affiliation you are do they?
[00:02:37] Samantha: Mm-hmm, they don't.
[00:02:38] Mike: Yeah.
[00:02:39] Samantha: No discrimination.
[00:02:40] Mike: You know, Kari, we've been doing this for a long time. Right. And it's different now. Fentanyl, isn't everything.
[00:02:49] Kari: Yes.
[00:02:49] Mike: I mean everything. Which is weird, but you are, you at the county have initiatives to deal with some of this. Or at least to address it.
[00:02:57] Kari: Absolutely. And I think Mike we've certainly our paths have crossed through the substance abuse coalition and part of the substance abuse coalition is the opioid task force.
[00:03:06] One of the committees there. And at the opioid task force, we meet as a group nine times a year and we take a look at data. So we have the medical examiner's office, local law enforcement, our me our EMS and we sit down and wanna take a look at where opioid related activity happening. And we put all of our information together and we do a heat map and we wanna look at it current.
[00:03:31] We cannot continue to look at countywide data and think that we're gonna help every individual in our community. We really have to customize and do outreach where it's needed most. So we really wanna make sure we're taking a look at information and as, as close to real time as possible. And. Get and let everyone know.
[00:03:50] So about a year and a half ago there was a lot of conversation at our task force that when law enforcement was seizing counterfeit pills in their field testing, they're coming positive for fentanyl. So we immediately got information out to our community and through COVID and a public crisis, we realize resource fairs aren't going to work, right. We can't get a hall and expect everyone to show up. So what we have to do is rely on social media, radio, newspaper, flyers, grassroots nonprofits, churches, any community member that we can connect with and make sure their community realizes now counterfeit pills, specifically Xanax had fentanyl.
[00:04:34] So we did a fairly large campaign around that as the months roll on. Law enforcement is unfortunately now reporting to us that pretty much everything they see is in test has fentanyl in it. Absolutely everything. So we changed our message too, instead of. Beware of counterfeit pills to basically our message was fentanyls everywhere.
[00:04:52] You can't trust your local drug dealer.
[00:04:54] Mike: No. And you know, they weren't testing drug screens. Weren't necessarily testing for fentanyl a while back. So this might have been around longer than we know. Right.
[00:05:07] Kari: I think that certainly it could, but the numbers of fentanyl related deaths have increased so drastically that I think we can easily put a number on or we can put a date stamp of 2016 is where we started to see the rise in opioid related deaths.
[00:05:25] And I think that's a really good benchmark for us to use as a community that there's, it's becoming more of a problem.
[00:05:31] Samantha: Can I just add to this with, with regards to the fentanyl issue, and we've addressed this in the legislature, as well as again, the, the testing strips were illegal and, and, and we had to pass a law to change that.
[00:05:43] So people would know that fentanyl isn't, everything. And again hats off to one of my former colleagues Jesse James, who's a law enforcement officer who brought his knowledge and experience of being a boot on the ground who saw the problem and brought the, that to the legislature to make a change.
[00:05:59] And again, with Kari and that the Human Services on a Go or our drug tape back date, we had people who came out to us to share their stories. I'll never forget Kari told me a story about a dad who came in, who just wanted to get the knowledge and how to administer Narcan. His daughter was coming home for the summer.
[00:06:17] You know, wanted to be that person who could help out if he came upon a situation in which, you know, they had overdosed.
[00:06:25] Mike: You know, I know you're concerned about the overdose situation in the deaths in your county, in Racine County as well. Congressman Steil talked about that. What, what do, what can be done at the county?
[00:06:35] I, I think you have some initiatives in order to lower the incidence of overdose death in your county.
[00:06:41] Kari: Well, I wanna talk to, Samantha messaged collaboration and she just talked about was one of her important messaging regarding this. And we're done with silo work. We have to come to the table with one mission and is to educate our community on the dangers of of substance misuse. And so we talked about the substance abuse coalition, which had had operated in of itself. And so did the opioid task force. So our good friend, Guida Brown, and I sat down together a few years ago and said, what are we gonna do? We are, we have the same mission. We have the same members.
[00:07:16] I think it's time for us to join forces and work together and, and get everyone to the same table. With the same mission. And so that was a great start for us. The Hope Council clearly does so much education and not only education for our community, but for our professionals. We have to take a look at the language we use.
[00:07:36] We have to look at stigmatizing. The process of getting help. And so it, it has been a great partnership and I'm always so thankful for Guida and Karen van Heijningen, and all of the great work they've done with the Hope Council and Save Lives Kenosha. So that was a great step, really pulling together all of our resources in making that bench really deep for the opioid task force. So I had mentioned that earlier, we really have to use all of our partners, not only law enforcement, EMS, medical examiner's office, all of human services, public health, but we have to talk to people in the treatment profession. We have to talk to persons in recovery and we have to get to the table.
[00:08:15] Those folks that love someone that have a substance use disorder as well. So when we're all together working on the same mission, we're able to reach so many different parts of our community. So Samantha had mentioned Human Services on the Go. That was our answer. That was our answer to what are we going to do about this crisis?
[00:08:35] So we said, instead of having, like I'd said, another resource fair at a hall during a public health crisis, which this isn't gonna work. We're gonna use that information and data we have from our heat maps. And we're going to say, okay, the common denominator is opioid related overdoses or opioid related tests, instances, EMS runs, whatever that may be, and we're gonna offer. Narcan and Narcan training, and we're gonna do outreach and education about what services are available here in Kenosha. We also took a look at the areas we were going into and say, what else does someone need to know here? Do we need to, is this an older area of our community where we need to talk about the lead abatement program?
[00:09:13] Is this an area that has older Americans living there and we should bring information about dementia care specialists. So we really wanted to customize the human services experience for each neighborhood. So cookie cutter human services for our countywide program. That's not good enough anymore. We need to know what each neighborhood in our county needs and we need to bring it to them.
[00:09:38] So we rented a bus and we made magnets that said Kenosha County Human Services. And we brought partners from all of human services together and we just went out. We had a bus with a table, people could come and find us, and then we filled up wagons and just went in four different directions down the road and walked up and down the street and engaged people that were outside.
[00:10:01] And said, Hey, my name's Kari Foss and I work in behavioral health. Can I tell you about a few things? And the experience was pretty awesome.
[00:10:09] Samantha: Yeah. I actually got to see it firsthand. This was before I was County Exec. Kari invited us out to let us know that she was gonna be out in the community and to see it firsthand, again people are afraid to come in or can't come in.
[00:10:21] They don't have transportation. Here we are going out and, and meeting them on the street or at the one trailer park like their little community area where the seniors are out in Bristol or out in Twin Lakes by the library where people are coming anyway. And then they get to have the questions that they, they might not have picked up the phone to call or might not have driven into to a, to ask their questions.
[00:10:46] Kari: And we've, we've got more planned this summer, and this is really where the collaboration and working together has been so beneficial and I've really enjoyed this type of outreach.
[00:10:56] Mike: Well, now that you're County Exec Samantha, you can drive the bus.
[00:11:00] Samantha: [laugh] I, I don't know. I don't know if I have a CDL. I don't know if that I, I don't have that friends that have that, that ability, but I, I will be out right.
[00:11:10] Mike: As a politician. I do wanna ask you though, when you have something like a Narcan distribution neighborhood program, do you ever get blowback for doing something like that? I mean, it's clear. It seems to be the right thing to do. It's very effective, but there's always gonna be people complaining about stuff and
[00:11:28] Samantha: That's with anything.
[00:11:29] But with regards to this, this does cross economic lines, social lines. Everything, you know, I have a former colleague of mine, John Nygren who led the path on many, many pieces of legislation legislation that we pass. His story hits home with anybody who's had a loved one with an addiction, his daughter, and again, he could speak from the heart and give real life examples.
[00:11:56] And that, I think that's the thing that help drive the message to try to change the law. When you have somebody that's personally been impacted and they can share their heartbreak. The successes, you know, he went up and down with his daughter and had successes but still went down a path that unfortunately took over to where she is today.
[00:12:16] But he's always had hope. Anytime he spoke on the floor, he's always had hope to, to make a difference with other people to share his story so that we could make a difference. And that's what the bringing it out to the people, the outreach. So people don't feel ashamed or have stigma attached to it because it doesn't matter your upbringing, it could impact anybody.
[00:12:39] Mike: You know, it's and it, I wanna branch out just a minute because it's not just.
[00:12:44] Opiates and everything laced with fentanyl, but because we live here in Wisconsin drinking part of the culture during the pandemic, we saw excessive drinking go through the roof. In fact, I think we're the only state that reported an increase in excessive drinking in every single county. That has to be a concern for both of you.
[00:13:08] Samantha: I, I had not heard that statistic, but that is, that is striking. But there was so much stressors going on in people's life and they turned to that, I think probably as an out, as an outreach You know, and how can we recover from that and go forward. You know, my work in the legislature previously with Jim Ott, a former state legislator was such an advocate for enhancing our drunk driving laws.
[00:13:32] I work with him on many pieces of legislation, so it's, it's not stopping with things that we've passed. In the past, but trying to bring ideas forward to, to making changes going forward. I know that a couple families here have been greatly impacted, the Rizzo family. You know, I will. I they're part of my heart now with the, the, the family members they had lost and trying to advocate and change policies on a state and federal level, you know, you know, across, across state lines because they were impacted by something that Illinois had done and it impacted their family.
[00:14:09] Mike: You know, accessibility to treatment, education prevention Kari is really important and that's that reaching across different disciplines.
[00:14:20] Kari: Absolutely. We, we have to know not only what is county government doing, what's their private sector doing as well clearly. And so when we talk about accessibility to services, right, we, we need let's break down.
[00:14:35] That's a big topic in of itself. Accessibility. First off, we need our community to know whats available. So when you looked at the pandemic that made us change the way we do so much of our work, it, it struck a lot of us very quickly. We are resource rich, but we are system poor, and we really had to figure out how to centralize all of our information.
[00:15:01] So folks who are now going to access online, information and services, knew where to go. When you're in crisis or duress or, or struggling yourself or with someone else. The very last thing you want is to go bounce and bounce and bounce from a, an email, to a website, to voicemails that's unacceptable.
[00:15:24] That's, that's not what we should be providing for our community. So talking about accessibility first is information, educating our community on what's available. The other item is you don't have to know what to ask for. You just need to be available and able to tell us why you're calling. It's our job to figure out how we can help and what services are appropriate for what you're telling us.
[00:15:50] But that's another big I, I don't know where to start. I don't know what to say. I don't know what to ask for. You don't have to ask for anything. You need to pick up the phone or get online, whatever that may be and tell us what, what's the challenge today? What's the struggle. What's your worry. What's keeping you up at night.
[00:16:04] We'll take it from there. We have a series of questions to be able to ask you, and then we can talk about what some of the options are. So that's another opportunity for us to educate. So you talked earlier, asked the question of, you know, people have this pushback about Narcan and those conversations can be uncomfortable, but I'm always eager to engage in that conversation because it's an opportunity to educate on the idea that substance use is a health crisis. And folks that have substance abuse issues deserve the medical treatment that's required. Right. And so I'm gonna, you're gonna hear me talk a lot about stigma because I think that's our biggest challenge for our community. Especially Wisconsin, where you're looking at, you know, when there's alcohol at a baby shower, you might be in an interesting situation.
[00:16:53] Right? And those things didn't dawn on me. I'm born and raised here in Kenosha until we had friends from out of town, family out of town, attend a baby shower about a decade ago and said, There's, your serving alcohol? You know what I mean? It's one of those moments where you realize, yeah, I guess we are.
[00:17:07] Okay. Yeah, there, so culturally we're in pretty deep. So if you have a family member struggling with a health crisis, diabetes, cancer, whatever it may be, the family rallies around and asks questions and how can we help? And, oh, so, and so has diabetes, you know, do we need to have something available at Christmas for dinner?
[00:17:27] You know, we, we rally around, we'll have fundraisers and we'll talk about it. And we use language like they're brave or they're warrior and they have strength. But when we have a family member, a loved one, struggling with a substance abuse issue, we don't use that language. Sometimes we don't even talk about it.
[00:17:45] Sometimes our family says, don't talk about it. Don't ask it's none of your business. And we don't try to bring that together to show the support. We most certainly don't use words like bravery or they're a warrior, their strength when they're battling their addiction issues. So it's, it's a lot about the language and the feeling that we give a person or the family member that is trying to hide this.
[00:18:09] Deal with it. Hope it goes away. I mean, there's a lot of certainly Mike, you understand the, the, the concept that we're going with, but that's another big struggle of accessibility. We really have to figure out the language we're using and be ready to have those uncomfortable conversations. So Hope Council, their Save Lives Kenosha website.
[00:18:27] Actually, fabulous website for anybody in Kenosha or anyone to to access. They actually have a tab there to have how to start that uncomfortable conversation. You might save someone's life. You kind of just have to get over that. And it really helps people reframe, you know, how to start that conversation.
[00:18:46] Mike: You know, and Kari and I are, are these grunts that just do it, cuz it falls on us.
[00:18:50] But you know, Samantha, that's where I think you all come in, right? If you're an elected official and you're speaking to the topic, you're breaking that, you're breaking down that stigma saying it's ok.
[00:19:01] Samantha: Right. And that's why it's so important to, to give people like me the knowledge so that I can go out and share a message.
[00:19:07] I know if somebody just approaches me in the grocery store, I know how to get them the help and resources that they need. They might not have made that call on their own. And again, encouraging that person who might have that loved one at home and not knowing like exactly what Kari had said, not knowing how to get the help they need.
[00:19:29] They know who I am. They've seen me out. They see me at the fair. They see me, you know at many events around the, the county. So I'm that comfortable person to, to reach out to, so you know, and Guida, you know, you Kari mentioned Guida. I mean, my friendship with her dates back 20, 20 plus years, too.
[00:19:45] And again, as a legislator who was new, younger I remember having some conversations with her and her sharing her [inaudible] me and I always would reach out to her when we had those challenging bills in the legislature. I would be like, Guida did tell me what this is. How does this, how does this, how will this impact you?
[00:20:03] How will this impact the person on the street? So I think I appreciate over the years been given that knowledge. And so, you know, I've always been asked to do things kind of outside the box. And I ask now the people that I work with to think outside the box and, and that's what I wanna bring so that we can handle this crisis together. I have boys that are 16 and [inaudible] and I think about them all the time.
[00:20:27] Mike: Just a couple more Kari, I think that, you know, I, I always do this when we talk about accessibility to treatment and whatnot. For those people, a lot of people listening, hear the word treatment and they think this linear, old school in a building, but you know your services are broad based.
[00:20:45] It, it encompasses a lot more than just go to a building for a while and then move back.
[00:20:50] Kari: Oh, it's it's, it's really, we wanna make sure that no matter where you are in talking about substance abuse or where you might even be in your own journey towards recovery, we have a place that we can meet you where you're at.
[00:21:03] So of course there's private sector places, if we're gonna take it back to, you know opioid or fentanyl related, There's the medically assisted treatment. We have three private agencies in town, Clean Slate, West Grove and ASAP, which is very new to our community. But there is the assisted treatment through the county system, so to speak.
[00:21:21] So you can access medically assisted treatment, which is a partnership with professional services group and their comprehensive alcohol and drug treatment program that provides the case management. And the therapy needed for effective MAT and then public health has nurses that can administer the medication and also talk about all of your health needs.
[00:21:42] You know, the idea that we're just gonna compartmentalize you and when you're in front of a nurse and just talk about your opioid related, you know, we wanna talk about the totality of your health and your wellbeing, everything we wanna talk about everything. Folks can access those county services voluntarily.
[00:22:00] They can reach out to professional services group and the mental health and substance abuse resource center that Samantha referenced earlier. And we, but we have a, a lot of other avenues where people. They can actually start their medically assisted treatment. If they're incarcerated, we have an opportunity to start that while someone's in the jail. There's treatment court, which I know Samantha is gonna talk about in a little bit.
[00:22:24] People can access MAT through that program. And then there's the overall CCS program that is statewide comprehensive or Community Comprehensive Services. All of that is, is part of that scope of [inaudible] that, that service array that, that provides as well. So we don't really care what door you come in, just walk in the door and we're going to figure out how to get you connected.
[00:22:49] We're gonna, you know, we're gonna talk about, do you have insurance?, do you have accessibility to transportation?, is childcare an issue? Right. I mean, we have to talk about everyone's accessibility. So that, that if you're a parent, you know, you have a lot of accessibility needs and requirements. So we need to hear about that.
[00:23:06] So that comes out in our conversations
[00:23:09] Mike: And I'll, I'll put the links to all of the county resources at the bottom of the podcast. And for those of you listening out of the area, and then there's a lot of you, every county, every borough in the United States has services and local services. So please access them.
[00:23:24] And speaking of treatment court Ms. Kerkman, the last time I saw you was in treatment court, not personally, but you were there to celebrate the graduation of an individual one individual.
[00:23:39] Samantha: Right, right. Very special occasion. Judge Meyer had reached out to me and said, Would I be available and obviously taking advantage of it, you know, when you see those outcomes they need to be celebrated.
[00:23:52] And again, she was inspiring others that were there that day that were not as far into their journey as she was. So that's where I wish that you could duplicate what, you know, and, and add. To those types of programs. I still remember the first time I heard about drug treatment court in Madison and it was just a little pilot and, you know, a couple counties were gonna start it and to see it actually working and the outcomes, and then people being able to share their stories and give back.
[00:24:23] And people who have been at their lowest level and now singing the praises of the program. They're clean, they're giving back, they're mentoring other people who have, you know, are just starting this journey. That's, what's so inspiring to me and why we need to keep these programs going, because this is how we're gonna, you know, stop this crisis that we have going on in our state and country.
[00:24:45] Because. What we have going on here is really remarkable. It's how law enforcement, the judicial system works with the human services, the public health side of things to really get the person, the services they need to help them be successful. I mean, I've heard it from again at drug graduation days, but like I said, I've had two other significant cases where.
[00:25:09] Families had reached out to me and shared their stories and one just very, very tragic. Known the, the, the, the person since grade school got addicted, started with marijuana, moved into every harder things, had access through some ways to get some prescription drug. Got addicted anyway, up and down a journey.
[00:25:29] Parents spent thousands of dollars on private services for them. Gets clean, gets recovered, get getting married, got married a week later, winds up being high, again, winds up, killing somebody, unfortunately going down that path spent some time in prison in Illinois for his sentence. Gets out. And today I'm happy to report. He is back here living near his family up in Northern Wisconsin and is clean and has a daughter and just has made tremendous [inaudible]. So this is a journey of. You know, almost two decades that this family has went through and that they are now just productive citizen. And again, he's, he wrote me two letters while he was in prison and really.
[00:26:15] To hear his story of his journey and how you can recover. Going back to that original message. Recovery is so important.
[00:26:21] Mike: That's a great place to stop this. I also wanna be considerative of your time. Thank the two of you so much. You do have a wealth of resources and we would encourage people to use them. For those of you listening. We're one of the resources. So please listen in next time, when we talk about more issues around substance use. And until, then please stay safe.
[00:26:44] [END AUDIO]
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