Drug coalition holds screening of opiate film, panel discussion

The Isanti County Substance Abuse and Recovery Coalition and Isanti County Community Adolescent Advisory Team sponsored a screening of the FBI-produced film “Chasing the Dragon” on Feb. 15 at the Hardy Performing Arts Center at Cambridge-Isanti High School.

Charity Allen, Scott Skelton and Jeff Edblad during the panel discussion. Photo by Austin Gerth
Charity Allen, Scott Skelton and Jeff Edblad during the panel discussion. Photo by Austin Gerth

“Chasing the Dragon” is a documentary about opiate abuse built on interviews with several real-life addicts at various stages of recovery. It pays particular attention to the relationship between addiction to prescription opiates and use of heroin.

The screening was preceded by free pizza and followed by a discussion panel with local authorities on drug abuse and drug treatment. Parents in attendance were also given the opportunity to view a mock teen bedroom to learn signs of drug use.

The discussion panel was composed of Cambridge-Isanti High School resource officer Jesse Peck; Dr. Andrew Peltier of Cambridge Medical Center; Isanti County investigator Wayne Seiberlich of the East Central Drug and Violent Offender Task Force; a recovering opiate user named Morgan (who was not identified by her last name); chemical dependence counselor Charity Allen; Cambridge Medical Center pharmacy manager Scott Skelton; and Isanti County Attorney Jeff Edblad.

During the discussion, the panelists fielded questions about what they and the agencies they represented are doing to fight the opiate epidemic locally, as well as what community members can do on their own.

An Anoka-Ramsey student nurse in the audience pointed out that many of the opiate users in “Chasing the Dragon” returned to drug use after the filming and asked whether new methods of treatment were being tried or whether it was worth questioning the usefulness of existing ones.

In response, Peltier gave an overview of current drug treatment methods, and Edblad emphasized the difficult realities of combating drug use.

“This isn’t something that physicians can undo by not writing prescriptions,” Edblad said. “This isn’t something that the criminal justice system can arrest its way out of.”

He added the solution to the problem must be “systemic.”

Another audience member asked, “What can we do as a community to help steer young people away” from drug use.

The panel members’ responses varied. Recovering opiate user Morgan voiced pessimism about the prospect.

“Honestly, I have no idea,” Morgan said. “Drugs are always going to be there.”

Peck outlined strategies parents can use to limit the possibility of their children accessing drugs and to find out if they are using. He suggested making use of tracking devices on kids’ cell phones, paying attention to who children hang out with and not being afraid to go through children’s rooms and belongings.

Allen added parents can learn about current drug slang from the website Urban Dictionary.

Another audience member continued to question whether any existing method of battling drug use could be effective, including education itself.

“You know where I learned about drugs?” he said. “I learned about drugs from the DARE programs.”
Peltier noted that one of the biggest factors contributing to the current opiate abuse trend was the availability of prescription opiates, which Skelton echoed.

“I bet you right now about half this audience has some sort of controlled substance in their medicine cabinet in your home,” Skelton said. “To a drug seeker, the first place they’ll look is in the medicine cabinet.”

Skelton recommended not saving drugs and storing them in places other than a medicine cabinet.

Progress is being made to reduce the availability of opiates, Edblad said.

“We’ve made a difference because there are 1,780 pounds of pharmaceuticals that aren’t floating around on the street,” he said, referencing a statistic about drug confiscation.

Another screening of “Chasing the Dragon” will take place at 7 p.m. March 14 at the Braham Event Center.