The Up2UsNow Coalition to reduce child abuse in Douglas County was the topic of the Talking Health radio interview on News Radio 1240 KQEN recently.
Host Lisa Platt spoke with Marion Kotowski, the Community Violence Prevention Specialist for Mercy Foundation, Andrea Zielinski, from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and Gary Klopfenstein, of the Roseburg Police Department about a local task force dealing with opioid drug abuse and human trafficking.
The following is an edited version of that interview.
Lisa: Marion, would you tell us about the Up2Us Coalition?
Marion: We have over 30 community partners including not-for-profit agencies, government agencies, law enforcement, district attorney, schools, and many community members who are all working together to prevent child abuse in Douglas County.
Lisa: How about efforts that you are doing with human trafficking?
Marion: I often hear how horrible human trafficking is, but a lot of our community members still think this is something that only happens in urban areas. They know that it’s a real problem in places like Salem or in Portland, but often think that here in Douglas County, it isn’t happening, and I’m here to tell you that it is. We have human trafficking in our community.
Our coalition is raising awareness and providing education and training for community members so they can recognize the signs of human trafficking, as well as know how to respond if they see it or suspect it.
Lisa: Can you tell us about some of the training that you’re doing?
Marion: When we started this whole initiative, we actually paired with the Department of Justice in Portland and Portland’s Human Trafficking Task Force. They had all been FBI-trained and came to our community specifically to educate our law enforcement officers, our district attorney and advocates in the area. The information they brought with them was surprising to say the least, and they showed us that trafficking is absolutely happening here, and as long as we have consumers, it is going to remain here.
So, we’ve spent the last couple of years working hard to educate as many people as possible. We have added a human trafficking unit into the Healthy Relationships curriculum that goes into middle schools and high schools. We have trained service groups and we are training with the Department of Health and Human Services. We’re also trying to catch as many parents and parent groups as we possibly can.
This is a complex issue and everybody needs to know how to respond to it if they suspect it.
Lisa: You’ve even been working with the UCC truck driving school?
Marion: We’ve had training with many of the UCC nursing and dental assistant students, but one of our most active programs is with the UCC truck driving school. Leadership was so impressed with the training, they have made us a regular part of their curriculum. So every time they start a new class, we are able to train every truck driving student on recognizing the signs of human trafficking.
Lisa: Why is Douglas County primed for human trafficking?
Marion: I-5 runs the length of Douglas County, and the county covers over 5,000 square miles. Much of it is rural and tucked away in the smaller communities where traffickers can easily hide and do business without anybody really noticing. We also have issues of trafficking of our own residents, by our own residents.
Lisa: Can you share some of the material you go over when you’re making a presentation?
Marion: We do a trafficking 101, and we cover some national statistics, but also focus on data and statistics that are important to our community. So we talk about the general belief that labor trafficking is the biggest issue we have, but in rural areas — not just in Douglas County, but across the country — sex trafficking is the largest issue, at 3 times the rate of labor trafficking.
We talk about how to recognize it and what the risk factors are, recruitment and how easily someone can fall into the trap of human trafficking. We talk about local resources, numbers to call, what can be done, our trained law enforcement and how to respond.
Lisa: You have a couple of new projects with regards to human trafficking.
Marion: The Convenience Store Awareness Project partners with our local convenience stores that have a travel center or a gas station attached to make sure that all of their staff are trained to recognize the signs of human trafficking and what to do, who to call, how to respond, as well as placing awareness materials and phone numbers that possible victims can see and use.
Lisa: Have you started to do more outreach into some of the other rural communities?
Marion: We are reaching out to more rural areas because we know that the people who live in these communities have their own issues, and who better to help us help them than those members who live and work in those communities.
Anybody can join the rural volunteer team. You don’t have to have special education, or special training, all you have to have is a passion to improve your own community.
Lisa: Gary, opioid use and overdoses are huge issues in our county. Can you talk about the effect of naloxone when someone has a drug overdose?
Gary: I’ve seen people with no heartbeat get a shot of naloxone and within a couple of minutes they’re standing up and trying to walk away. We don’t let that happen because the effect of this drug will wear off way sooner than the drug that they’re on, which is often heroin. But it’s absolutely amazing to watch, it literally wakes these people up.
Lisa: Tell me about the opiate task force and the effort to partner up with law enforcement when it comes to naloxone training.
Andrea: Some members of our narcotics team have already been trained, and they do have naloxone in their vehicles and have already used it a few times.
Winston and Sutherlin departments have also been trained, and it’s my understanding that both of those agencies are carrying the naloxone kits.
Lisa: Andrea, can you also talk about the Rx Take Back events?
Andrea: We schedule with the DEA biannual prescription drug take back events, and there’s one coming up in October. These events offer the community the chance to clean out their medicine cabinets of unused, unneeded prescription drugs, especially the opiates.
The DCSO, the Myrtle Creek PD, Winston PD, Reedsport and Sutherlin PD all have year-round take back programs. At the Sherriff’s Office we have kiosk in our lobby, where community members can dispose of their medications any time.
Lisa: Marion, can you share some statistics of the Take Back events?
Marion: At just the three events UP2USNow has held in Douglas County, 800 pounds of unused, unneeded medication was collected and disposed of safely.
To contact Marion Kotowski at the Mercy Foundation, call 541-677-6531, send a message on the Up2UsNow Facebook page or go to their website at www.up2usnow.org.