As the opioid epidemic spreads across the nation, the Watertown Healthy Youth Coalition, along with gubernatorial candidate and South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, provided a glimpse into the devastating effects at a community awareness meeting Monday night at Lake Area Technical Institute.
The meeting follows a previous meeting held last March, which focused on the addictive nature and devastating effects of methamphetamine. Monday’s meeting sounded similar notes not only on opioids, but prescription drug abuse and binge drinking as well.
The latter two nearly claimed current Watertown resident Lucas Nogelmeier last decade.
In front of nearly 200 people, Nogelmeier shared his experience of becoming addicted to painkillers in his young adulthood even though he came from a stable childhood home in a small town and exhibited no warning signs. In fact, Nogelmeier never even saw marijuana until he went to college and found himself hanging out with a group of people in order to stave off loneliness.
“(When I first got high) I remember thinking, ‘Why doesn’t everyone do this all the time?’” Nogelmeier recalled.
Within one month of getting the marijuana high, Nogelmeier took harder substances, including cocaine, LSD, and prescription painkillers.
“There was something about prescription painkillers. As time progressed, it was just more and more. I had to have those pills,” Nogelmeier said. “Painkillers affect some people in wildly different ways. For myself, I felt like Superman.”
However, Nogelmeier’s addiction became a problem to the point that he ended up taking painkillers meant for his father after a then recent surgery. Afterward, Nogelmeier achieved sobriety with the help and advice from others.
“Finally, I realized that I can’t continue on the cycle I was going on and have people trust me,” Nogelmeier said. “I got through the withdrawals. To this day… I have been able to maintain my sobriety.”
And with that sobriety came improvement in his life.
“I went from having no job and using drugs to having a solid career and a family. I have two beautiful kids,” Nogelmeier said. “All of this is due to being sober. To not being in that cycle of addiction.”
Nogelmeier was able to overcome his addiction through the help of others. Jackley and members of Watertown’s law enforcement and treatment organizations are seeking to get citizens involved at all levels through a new initiative, Project Stand Up.
Through Project Stand Up, which launched in May, citizens across the state can anonymously report drug use or drug-related incidents to local law enforcement by texting ‘Drugs’ to 82257.
“Project Stand Up arms our citizens who have a cell phone with the ability to help law enforcement protect communities,” Jackley told the Public Opinion. “To this point, it has been a strong initiative. We already have had over 350 contacts involved with 250 individuals in 43 counties, including Codington.”
Further information on Project Stand Up can be found online at nomethever.com.
With the success of the first two community meetings, Kelli Rumpza, a prevention specialist with the Human Service Agency and facilitator with the Watertown Healthy Youth Coalition, said future information sessions are likely, but alternative formats may be on the table.
Monday’s meeting comes in advance of Saturday’s Drug Take Back Day organized by the Watertown Police Department. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., citizens can dispose of unused prescription drugs at the police department lobby just north of First Avenue Northeast.
“It’s a ‘no questions asked’ sort of thing,” WPD Detective Sgt. Chad Stahl said. “Just put them in the box and we will dispose of them.”