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A new drug menace and no place is safe PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Thursday, 12 October 2017 15:52

There is no safe haven from this plague.
    Places like Ozaukee County—with its appealing suburban and rural character displayed in small communities with educated and relatively prosperous populations—were once unlikely to be touched by more than a glancing blow from the drug miseries that plague America’s biggest cities. No more. Drug addiction is now a fact of life here and virtually everywhere. And everyone is paying for it one way or another.
    Here is one way, as explained by Ozaukee County Administrator Jason Dzwinel: “Opioid addiction and mental health issues, which are pretty much entwined, drive a significant amount of our budget. Look at the case load in the child protective services and you’ll see it’s drastically up. We don’t have enough foster homes for kids. This is being driven by mental health problems and opioid addiction.”
    The costs are paid in other ways too: In drug addiction’s growing demands on local and county police and prosecutors; in the burden on health care resources; and, most tragically, in its human toll—the ruined lives of adults and the psychological and physical damage to the children of parents too dependent on drugs to care for them. It’s happening right here in our beloved small towns.
    There is no mystery about the cause of this pain. It is the addiction to prescription pain pills such as oxycodone that act like opium and heroin and are just as addictive. Addicts not only support a criminal black market in the drugs, but are vulnerable to becoming heroin users.
    The financial burden caused by opioids has become so significant that government agencies in many states are turning to the courts in the hope of compensation from the pharmaceutical companies that market narcotic pain pills.
    Ozaukee County has been asked to join a lawsuit brought by the Wisconsin Counties Association against so-called Big Pharma. The suit claims the companies should be made to pay because they “flooded the market with highly addictive drugs claiming they were safe and efficacious for long-term use, manufactured studies to support those false claims and knowingly misrepresented the addictive nature of these drugs.”
    There is no question the counties could use help in dealing with the opioid epidemic. Their state association asked the Walker administration for an additional $13.5 million is state funding for child and family services related to the epidemic, but were granted less than half of that in the state budget.
    Ozaukee County should sign on to the suit. As a plaintiff, it would only have to document its costs of dealing with the societal ills of opioid addiction. There would be no financial commitment, yet the county would share in any settlement or court-awarded payment.
     There are caveats, though. One is that winning the suit may be a long shot. Successful lawsuits by the states against tobacco companies are seen as the model for the litigation, but the parallels are fuzzy. Unlike cigarettes, the narcotic pain-killers are FDA approved medicine that when properly used serve a legitimate health care need.
    Another is that even a court victory with a big payoff, while it would help agencies cover the costs of dealing with the results of opioid addiction, would not slow the epidemic. That will take work to prevent addiction, which should be a state and federal responsibility, including efforts to control the over-prescribing of narcotic pain pills by physicians and counseling patients about the risks of opioid use even when needed after surgery or injury.        
    Meanwhile, more Americans are dying from drug overdoses each year than from car crashes and gun violence. Two-thirds of those deaths are blamed on opioids, and some are happening here in our communities. It will take more than lawsuits to change that.

Footsteps on the land PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 04 October 2017 16:25

“Andy was Riveredge, and Riveredge was Andy.”
    That sentence is from the front-page Ozaukee Press obituary for Andy Larsen. The remarkable thing about the words is that they were said by so many people that the quote was attributed to “friends and co-workers.”
    From the earliest days of Riveredge, the nature preserve that embraces 379 acres of land in the Town of Saukville, Andy Larsen was its abiding spirit—working in the field, teaching, leading, inspiring.
    With its array of hills, valleys, forests, ponds, prairies, plants, creatures and river banks, Riveredge is a showcase for the glories of nature. But is also, thanks to Mr. Larsen’s efforts and example, an important influence in support of the moral imperative for humans to be good stewards of the planet’s irreplaceable land.
    The legacy of Mr. Larsen, who died Sept. 22 at the age of 78, is not just Riveredge; it is also the defenders of the environment he inspired. Anyone who visits Riveredge and strikes up a conversation with folks there is likely to hear stories of how the teachings of Andy Larsen, often absorbed when they were children, motivated them to be advocates for conservation.
    It seems wrong to say that defenders of Earth like these one-time Riveredge kids are needed today more than ever, but it is true. For after years of progress, some elected leaders seem intent on taking the country backwards in environmental protection.
    This is evident on a national scale in the dismantling of Environmental Protection Agency regulations promised and being carried out by President Trump and in the plans to sell public wilderness areas that are so valuable as assets of nature that they have been designated national monuments.
    A similar disdain for government’s role in environmental protection is at work in Wisconsin, which, ironically, is considered by many to be the cradle of the conservation movement. Here, amid an ongoing effort to weaken air, water and land-use restrictions on industry, the Walker administration has offered to waive or relax environmental regulations as an incentive to lure a Taiwanese company’s massive manufacturing operation to the state.
    The rationale for this environmental backsliding is invariably that a prosperous economy is dependent on capitalism unfettered by the inconvenience of abiding by rules protecting natural resources.
    It is a false notion that has been disproven time and again, most dramatically by California, which has the country’s most stringent environmental regulations and, according to a U.S. News ranking, the most friendly-to-business environment of any state.    
    Yet Americans are told it is necessary to allow pollution of air and water by coal in order to save miners’ jobs and Wisconsinites are told that it is OK to let wetlands be destroyed in building the Foxcon plant that will sprawl over hundreds of acres of land in southeastern Wisconsin because it will be the biggest economic development project in the state’s history.
    This goes on in spite of that fact that a majority of the public, according to numerous polls, supports regulations to protect the environment and efforts to preserve land in its natural state. Simply put, people understand that when natural areas are built on, paved over or plowed, they are lost forever.
    Andy Larsen engendered that understanding as part of his life’s work encouraging people to experience the majesty of nature. It is fortunate for us that he inspired so many to follow the footsteps he imprinted on the land.

How a game became a forum for protest PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 27 September 2017 16:59

Millions of words about the game-day protests by National Football League players have been written, printed, posted, spoken and tweeted since last weekend, but it is unlikely that any have been more heartfelt, moving and, for those who agree with their sentiment, more compelling than those of Ozaukee Press reader David Shaw of Belgium in his letter published on this page.
    The letter to the editor includes the text of a letter Mr. Shaw sent to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell criticizing his failure to take action against players who make gestures of protest during the singing of the national anthem.
    The letter begins, “Dear Mr. Goodell: Enclosed are a few pictures of my son. He was a Marine combat veteran. He deeply loved America. He never complained about his injuries. He killed himself Nov. 13, 2015. Unlike your pampered celebrity millionaire athletes, he never cried about how unjust the world is. You have allowed the blatant disrespect for our national anthem by your players.”
    Not only heartfelt by the writer, the words surely go straight to the hearts of readers. In writing them, and in having them published in a newspaper protected by freedom of the press, Mr. Shaw exercised free speech rights that are guaranteed to Americans by the First Amendment, including his right to, as referred to in his letter, boycott NFL games as a form of protest.
    Empathy is the right response to the letter, but so too is an understanding that the Americans who play football for the NFL have the same rights as Mr. Shaw.     
    Mr. Shaw’s letter was written before President Trump attacked players in a speech Friday and in a barrage of tweeted screeds that followed it. Before Trump barged in, player demonstrations—kneeling or raising a fist during the anthem—were limited mainly to a few African American players drawing attention to racial grievances. But on Sunday, hundreds of players protested, in one case an entire team.
    These protests were more than a show of solidarity with black players. They were a rebuke of a president who showed his contempt for free speech by calling any player who protests during the national anthem “a son of a bitch” and telling team owners to fire protesters.
    What was perhaps most remarkable about the response was that many of the NFL owners Trump tried to goad into firing protesters defended the players and criticized the president. Even New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a one-time Trump supporter who was reported to have donated $1 million to his inauguration, said he was “deeply disappointed” by Trump’s comments and defended his players’ rights to “peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner they feel is most important.”
    Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy rapped Trump for “using his immense platform to make divisive and offensive statements about our players” and voiced support for “any of our players who choose to peacefully express themselves with the hope of change for good.” And then he reminded the president: “As Americans, we are fortunate to be able to speak openly and freely.”
    Fans are divided and many no doubt share the sentiments expressed by Mr. Shaw. It’s a fair assumption, however, that most of them would wish that they could enjoy just watching a football game without the distraction of politics.
    It’s a nice thought, but that ship sailed a long time ago. Football games have been formed into something resembling patriotic exercises. Players are called warriors. Military metaphors are used to describe their efforts to lay waste to opponents. Some NFL games feature fly-overs by military aircraft during the singing of the anthem. Once upon a time at Green Bay Packers games, during another period of civil unrest, this one over the Vietnam War and racial inequality, players and fans were expected to recite the Pledge of Allegiance before singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” The result is that football games have become an apt forum for protest.
    NFL football has been inflated into many things, but at its most basic it is nothing more than an amusement and its players are the highly paid entertainers who provide it. They are, precisely as David Shaw wrote, “pampered millionaire celebrity athletes.” But they are also Americans who do not forfeit their freedom of speech when they put on cleats and shoulder pads to perform for their audience.

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