CRANDON - It became one funeral too many for Ned Daniels Jr.
Story By Ben Meyer
"We had some funeral services," he said. "All of a sudden, it started to get repeated way too much."
Daniels had seen enough of his fellow Forest County Potawatomi tribal members die, killed by opioid abuse.
As soon as he was elected Tribal Chairman in February, the tribe went all-out in its fight against opioids.
On Wednesday, that fight reached a new level.
The tribe is rolling out an aggressive television ad and billboard campaign while giving almost $700,000 to local law enforcement to fight the drug problem.
"None of us are powerful alone. But together, we're unbeatable. We believe this is something we can overcome if we all come together," Daniels said.
The statistics back up Daniels' concern.
In the first part of this decade, hospitalizations for opioid abuse nearly doubled in the average Wisconsin county. But in Forest County, they increased by 415 percent. Nine people have died this year in the county from opioids.
Daniels saw it happening around him, saw his 35-year-old daughter affected by opioids, and ran for tribal leadership on an aggressive anti-opioid campaign.
"I've changed my entire life. I'm usually a businessman. I sold all of my businesses so I could do this job," he said.
Potawatomi Health Division Administrator Julie Beeney says, in her 34 years in healthcare, she's never seen drugs kill people like opioids are doing right now.
Five tribal members died from opioid abuse in January alone.
Beeney is pleased with the response of the tribe's leaders.
"They want to be the face of, 'We're the generation, we're the Executive Council, we are the community that stood up and said, 'Not one more. We're not going to continue to let our community members die,''" she said.
Along with the television ads, which will appear on Newswatch 12, and the billboards, which will line Highway 8, the tribe is giving local police hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Forest County Sheriff's Department will get $450,000 to hire two additional drug enforcement officers, doubling its drug force. The Crandon Police Department will get $225,000 to hire another police officer.
Forest County Sheriff John Dennee said the new money and donations already given by the tribe are essential.
"Without that help, we wouldn't probably be able to have the drug units and do things. We would probably be traditional law enforcement, patrolling and making arrests as they come along," Dennee said. "[With the money,] I can have guys that focus solely on opioids, drugs, awareness, education, prevention, enforcement, the whole gamut."
Dennee said opioids have risen to the top priority of the department.
"It's our number one issue. We see it in everything. We see it in every life, we see it in all of our crime, we see it in the background of a lot of things going on," he said. "We're seeing it everywhere."
Dennee said the opioid fight has helped his department and the tribe collaborate better than ever. He called their relationship "100 percent excellent."