One main street, many bars, and a stubborn U.P. problem

I grew up in Negaunee. Its Main Street has a row of bars. A row. There’s no bookstore in the town. No cineplex. But you can ricochet down the street and hit at least five bars. Maybe more.

We come from a drinking culture. And I’m not talking about France’s healthy glass of red wine with your meal. I’m talking about something else. If you’re a fellow Yooper, you’ve probably had drinking destroy somebody in your family – an uncle, an aunt, a cousin, a grandfather.

I remember going to Teen Leadership and Pip Fest when I was in high school – programs set up for teens dealing with drug and alcohol abuse in their families. I remember a hell of a lot of tears. (Such an incredible contrast to those wacky beer commercials.)

I’m saying all this so you understand growing up in the U.P. left me a little haunted by drugs and alcohol. I saw what it did to people I cared about and the sight of the effects was stronger than any Just Say No campaign. What’s interesting is that now, having grown up and become a writer, the demons of booze demonstrate themselves in other ways, i.e. in the stories I’m covering.

For example:

Recently I had the idea of finding out about crime in the U.P., its roots, its causes.

When I talked to Detective Sergeant Tom Swanson of the Sault Ste. Marie Police Department and Patrol Captain Blake Rieboldt of the Marquette PD, I wanted to know what factor keeps popping up as far as U.P. crime. Was it predominantly males? Twenty-somethings? The poor? A particular area?

No, no, no, no.

The great discovery for me was finding out that the one factor that seems to be connected to the majority of crime for the region was also linked to the current health problems facing the U.P.: Alcohol abuse.

When we’re speaking of improving health and lowering crime rates, we mean reduction of drug and alcohol dependency. It’s that simple.

Or that complex.

Andy Chosa, foundation coordinator of Great Lakes Recovery Centers, said, “The crime that does take place in the U.P. is very highly likely to be linked to someone with a substance abuse disorder.”

The most recent crime report for Marquette County – the most populated in the U.P. – shows only two crime categories reached beyond 1,000 occurrences – larceny (1,118 occurrences) and all other, including drunkenness & vagrancy (1,945 occurrences). Chippewa County, the second largest county, had over 1,000 occurrences of disorderly conduct (1,227) and all other, including drunkenness and vagrancy (1,705). Disorderly conduct and larceny are linked to drunkenness and drug use.

“It’s not getting any better,” said Rieboldt.

In fact, when it comes to drugs like methamphetamine, Rieboldt said in the last two years, “meth has hit us like a ton of bricks.”

Swanson said the same is true with heroin. Swanson has found a slow, but steady increase in heroin usage, stating, “heroin is creeping its way into this area. It’s growing.”

One might question if, or why, people in the U.P. seem prone to drug and alcohol abuse – the long winters? The poverty? The lack of sufficient positive alternative choices?

“Everything kind of revolves around beer and wine,” said Rieboldt, adding, “It’s just part of our culture.”

But that culture might be more on the national level rather than just selectively in the U.P.

Chosa puts things in statistical perspective, saying that according to the recent 2011 Michigan Department of Community Health reports, “approximately one in four” U.P. residents is alcohol dependent. “It’s a staggering problem,” said Chosa. Those numbers are in line with the national average, but they are not good statistics by any means.

Chosa quoted a sheriff who stated, “I’ve got people in my jails that aren’t criminals.”

The solution, Chosa said, is rehab.

Rieboldt agreed, saying, “There is some success with rehabilitation.”

“We know what works,” said Chosa, “Sustained, continuous treatment plans.”

Swanson said the public needs to utilize the programs set up in the community to assist with issues of need, such as the Diane Peppler Resource Center and the Advocacy Resource Center for the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, which work hand-in-hand.
Swanson said there “are so many programs available people don’t know about.”

Chosa said those wishing to donate can go directly to the non-profit Great Lakes Recovery Center web site.

He encouraged those with drug and alcohol problems to get actively involved in stopping their addiction cycle, encouraging them to pick up a phone, go to a doctor, go to A.A., go to rehab, tell a family member.

And for those so tied to their addiction that they cannot break free on their own, Chosa encourages friends and family to make contacts for the person. Before the addiction leads to a life-changing criminal altercation with the police.

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Fri, 09/26/2014 - 3:31pm
Interesting contrast to the recent somewhat over the top essays here about what a wonderful magical place the U.P. Is.
Sat, 09/27/2014 - 7:59am
“There is some success with rehabilitation.” Well no; Rehab is the salvation of intellectually obstipated politicians, journalists and jurists. Celebrities caught in flagrante delicto reach for the rehabilitation excuse. Better to be "saved" than to be deemed stupid. Numerous studies have been done on drug and alcohol rehab programs and none have shown any long term benefit but that the beat goes on. Alcoholism and depression are fairly constant features of northern climes, places like Russia, Finland, northern Canada.... No particular reason except maybe the genetic or cultural ancestry has been advanced. Maybe the grim economic auguries of these places encourages the emigration of ambitious folks, leaving behind the more vulnerable. But the rehab racket just recycles the same sad sacks over and over. Good for business in a dysfunctional sort of way, I guess.
Leslie Watson
Sat, 09/27/2014 - 8:13pm
There are flaws in this report. It makes the communities sound ignorant and without resources for the community. I don't live there but there are many interesting things to do besides drink! Negaunee and Ispeming are close together! Negaunee has wonderful antique shops, quaint little shops and places to eat. 1. VISTA THEATER is in Negaunee 2. 2. Negaunee Public Library (0.7 miles) 319 West Case Street, Negaunee, MI 3. Ishpeming Carnegie Public Library (3.5 miles) 317 North Main Street, Ishpeming, MI 4.
Sun, 09/28/2014 - 10:06am
And the only natural luge track in the entire country.
Mon, 09/29/2014 - 3:28pm
Sadly, that bookstore you list actually closed awhile ago.
Diana Menhennick
Sun, 09/28/2014 - 9:54am
While parts of this article are accurate, there are drug and alcohol problems the cultural aspect is not the only vehicle driving this problem and this article only focuses on the one aspect. There is a lack of direction by young people who don't wish to follow the society track of college and end up in a cycle of endless part time jobs which are low wages and I see this everyday as a reference librarian. Without hope of things getting better addiction becomes the chooses route to cope. Addiction recovery is difficult but impossible without the self will needed to achieve drug free recovery.
Mon, 09/29/2014 - 3:46pm
YUP! Makes me very nervous to raise my kids here. Your observation of "lack of direction" is spot on. I see it everyday and hear of it quite often through coworkers. Parents are not putting any value on education here and there is still the strong notion that the U.P. is the best and only place to be...."don't go anywhere else, there's too much crime", "I wish that bridge didn't exist", etc. Why pound that into our childrens head? People need to experience and explore. We need to educate. I do believe our (U.P.) issues with drugs and alcohol are quite strong. Everyone down below believes the U.P. is free of some of the issues the poverty stricken areas of the Lower Peninsula have. Boy are they wrong. I cite two reasons for the issues in the U.P.: Strain and Anomie! The Sault has had multiple heroin overdoses deaths in the past couple years. Some have been back to back. I can count at least five in the past six months. Prescription meds are rampant. Meth is making it's big debut. All this in a town of 14,000 with no high paying jobs, a lot of income based housing, the lowest paid teachers in the State, etc. It'll never end... It doesn't sound like Menominee is any better, Esky seems a tad weak at the moment, don't think Marquette doesn't have the issues. It's taking/taken over.
artemis gordon
Sun, 09/28/2014 - 2:16pm
Meth and alcohol is where concentrated effort needs to occur. Or else watch our society continue to degrade,
Sun, 09/28/2014 - 5:25pm
One in four is "alcohol dependent"? Nationwide? Can you define the term, please?
Jeff Counts
Mon, 09/29/2014 - 9:46am
As the author of three travel guides to Michigan, I've spent a lot of time in the U.P. Your column certainly caught the dark side of a region I love. I know one town on Lake Superior well, and and spent time there for more than 25 years. Two of the local bar regulars have died of alcohol-related illnesses and a third is on death's door. I've never seen drunker people in my life than at the town's bar, and I was a newspaper man for 40 years. I was struck by you reference to the Ishpeming/Nagaunee area, here's travel blog I wrote about the towns' man bars.
Judy Krause
Tue, 09/30/2014 - 7:48am
Great article Ron!
Tue, 09/30/2014 - 8:14am
Michigan pushes alcohol as a great form of entertainment. Look at all the festivals and special events we have around the state that focus on wine and beer and other liquor. Look at all the festivals that include the same drink. Can't people attend an event or festival without alcohol and still have a good time?
Tue, 09/30/2014 - 9:01am
Yes, the trendy thing now is craft beer and brewpubs, if you don't have at least one brewpub in your town you are considered behind the times. There are so many beer and wine tasting festivals and celebrations in the Lansing area it has become a tired cliche kind of thing.
boB Swanson
Tue, 09/30/2014 - 8:19am
I am a man in long term recovery. That means I have not had a drink or a drug in over 26 years. I am a former police officer and sergeant. I have spent the last 25 years working as a substance abuse treatment professional with a primary focus on helping men in jails and state prisons. I obtained my initial insight into personal recovery at a treatment center in 1988. Treatment works! I know many in long term recovery as a result of it. I became a staff member/facilitator at PIP-Fest/U.P. Teen Leadership that year also. The knowledge I obtained in the latter experience, had the greatest impact in my life. I came to believe, and continue to hold as a true need, that early behavioral health prevention/education holds the greatest hope for future generations. The State of Michigan has steadily cut prevention funding for the last 25 years. There has not been an increase in funding for behavioral health treatment in that time either. As a matter of fact, treatment facilities are required to do more with less or cease to exist.
Tue, 09/30/2014 - 9:41am
Well written. The author clearly states 'the demons in booze ie: 'in the stories I'm covering'. The UP is a multifaceted geographical area. It is beautiful and owns endless amenities like no other. Residents need a special resilience to survive. I believe we can all agree...? On to another truth, the truth this author had the guts to bring forth. The truth without sugar coating: substance abuse. It lurks in the darkness preying on all walks of life. Destroying individuals, families, friendships. Far less appealing to read about than the Marquette rating in Forbe's. But nonetheless, it's as real as anything else. And it needs to be addressed. For those who are unaware of the magnitude of this plague, I challenge you to do research and become an activist in community. This author clearly stated his experience and the content of his article. If you're looking for a pleasing to the palate article, grab a AAA magazine, Mining Journal or Forbe's magazine. Kudos to this author.
Tue, 09/30/2014 - 12:23pm
I have been clean and sober for 25 years. Thank God! I come from a family of alcoholics. My Dad when I was growing up, and many good friends and family members throughout my life time. I had the opportunity to attend Teen Leadership as an adult and work with the teens for many years. It was the first time I ever felt loved just for me-unconditionally!!! The teens blossomed and be the end they were hugging some of their new best friends. Thank God I saw another way to live my life! I have lost three of my siblings to alcohol and drugs. They were all younger than me and I didn't quit I may have joined them". We grew up in the Copper Country. I am sure that the rate of alcohol abuse is even higher than the national average. One of my brothers died at 16 because an adult have him "dandelion" wine that was really antifreeze! He lived on life support for ten days before they turned off the life support! It was heartbreaking! Years later my second brother died of alcoholism when his liver and kidneys shut down. He was on dialysis for months before his body shut down for the last time and he died at 49 . That is when my Mom gave up on fighting to stay alive and she also died. Then my sister who was a drug addict as well as an alcoholic died. One of her sons lived in New York so they kept her on life support until he and his girlfriend could get her. Her son placed her hand on his girlfriends belly and said " meet your new granddaughter Mom". And the machines were turned off and she was permitted to die. I can't ever be thankful enough that I chose the path less travelled!! Great article!