Marion Kotowski, community violence prevention specialist with Mercy Foundation’s Up2UsNow Child Abuse Prevention Coalition talked about child abuse, human trafficking and opioid abuse in Douglas County on a recent CHI Mercy Health’s Talking Health on News Radio 1240 KQEN, with host Lisa Platt.
The following is an edited version of that interview.
Lisa: How did the coalition get started?
Marion: In 2008 it began with conversations with stakeholders in the community and the results of a community assessment that looked at gaps and the assets in the community and what were the larger issues.
It was found that child abuse was one of the bigger issues in Douglas County and at that time there were not a lot of prevention services or intervention services.
Lisa: Did you have to bring together a number of agencies?
Marion: We have well over 30 agencies, who are part of our coalition including state agencies and not-for-profits, as well as law enforcement behind us.
We could not have gotten as far as we have without the support of Mercy Medical Center and Catholic Health Initiatives, their parent company, which have given us over a million dollars towards violence prevention efforts and this work.
Lisa: Can you tell us about the Opiate Task Force?
Marion: That’s been around for several years now, with huge support from DINT (Douglas Interagency Narcotics Team), from Public Health, from Adapt and other facilities around the area.
One of our biggest projects right now, is Naloxone training. We have provided training for first responders around Douglas County. The importance is to get this medication into the hands of anybody who might be on scene of an overdose. It can actually reverse the effects of an overdose and bring someone back to life.
Lisa: Can you tel me about your drug take-back program?
Marion: One of our biggest efforts is to bring pharmacies alongside us to partner in being able to take back some of these medications.
A lot of people don’t really know what to do with their unused medication and they’ve been dumping them in the sink or flushing them in the toilet, so we’re trying to provide alternatives.
We have some Rx drop boxes located at police departments in Reedsport, Sutherlin, Winston and Myrtle Creek and at the Douglas County Sherriff’s office. Some of the pharmacies participate, like Gordon’s in Canyonville.
Lisa: Let’ talk about another project which is our Human Trafficking Task Force?
Marion: Yes we do have our Douglas County team for Human Trafficking Task Force and I am so proud of this task force.
We’ve been working really hard in the community to hold awareness events, training, getting out the message of what are the red flags for human trafficking, what are the warning signs, what are the risk factors because it is here and it is happening.
Lisa: What is human trafficking?
Marion: Human trafficking is modern day slavery. There are more people enslaved today than at any time in modern day history. This means that our community members are being controlled and being sold for something of value.
Lisa: What makes Douglas County such a ripe opportunity for human trafficking?
Marion: We do have all of the risk factors present. High levels of drug abuse, high levels of poverty, and the I-5 corridor that runs the entire length of Douglas County.
Lisa: What are some of the symptoms of human trafficking that can be going on at the school level?
Marion: What we’re seeing with youth around Douglas County is what we call being hooked into the life by a Romeo pimp. They’re a person who poses as a new boyfriend, or girlfriend, and the friend is very generous to befriend kids who are not really connected with their community or happy at home or with their peers.
Romeo pimps are masters at digging into someone’s past and getting information and then using that information to engage our youth.
Our youth are then being tricked into going out to community parties in rural areas and then drugged and trafficked that way.
Lisa: What can the community do if they suspect something is going on?
Marion: The best thing is that if something looks funny or feels funny is absolutely report it. We are so lucky to have law enforcement agents in Douglas County who are trained to recognize the signs and respond to trafficking cases, so if you suspect something, absolutely report it. You can report it to one of our local police departments, or call the national hotline at 888-373-7888.
Lisa: Would you talk to us about the Rural Volunteer Team?
Marion: We started the Rural Team Initiative to address some of the issues that were happening in some of our most remote areas.
We know that citizens of these areas are experts on what’s going on. So we bring people together to start talks about how they can strengthen each other and how we can help bring them services that are specifically needed for that particular part of our county.
Lisa: So is the concept to take what you have learned in Up2UsNow and start coalitions in these smaller communities?
Marion: That’s exactly what we want to do. Community members get together and work on what they want to accomplish to strengthen those families and the community. We as a coalition are here to help guide them and give them support.
Lisa: One of your favorite projects happens in the spring, the Youth Media Project.
Marion: The Youth Media Project is a peer-to-peer messaging project where we engage the youth of Douglas County, where we talk to them about prevention messaging, about issues that are really affecting their peer groups.
We help them make PSA’s where they come up with their own topics and storylines. We help them film them and then we premiere them in our community.
It was featured by the CDC as a premier community engagement project. PSAs have gone out over our local media, and then pushed out nationally and internationally through violence prevention partners.
Lisa: If people want to volunteer and find out more information, where can they get in touch with you?
Marion: You can reach me at Mercy Foundation at 541-677-4818 and you can go to the website at www.up2usnow.org or find us on Facebook.