Forum on opioid abuse to come to campus in January

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Demystifying a problem is often the first step in working it – and education is the best tool.

With this in mind, several DWU students and faculty have organized a forum on campus next month to discuss a topic that is prevalent in the news but often misunderstood – opioid abuse.

“The Cost of Opioid Abuse: A forum on opioid abuse in South Dakota,” is set for 7 p.m., Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in the Sherman Center at Dakota Wesleyan University, Mitchell. This event is free and open to all. It will also be live-streamed at and later posted to DWU’s YouTube channel,

The keynote speaker is Angela Kennecke, a mother of an overdose victim. Since the death of her daughter, Kennecke has used her platform as a news anchor for Sioux Falls-based KELO-Land News to educate others on opioid abuse, both on her program and at various public speaking events. The Kennecke family has also founded the Emily’s Hope Foundation in her daughter’s name. The foundation helps to offset the cost of treatment for people struggling with addiction.

Following her talk, Kennecke will join a panel discussion on opioid abuse. The other panelists include Mitchell Police Chief Lyndon Overweg, Mitchell Department of Public Safety; Joel Van Dover, an addiction survivor; and Dr. Matthew Stanley, of Avera Hospital Network. They will discuss their expertise and then respond to questions from the audience.

The decision to bring the forum to campus was the idea of Joel Reinesch, assistant professor of criminal justice at Dakota Wesleyan and former Mitchell police officer and detective/investigator. Reinesch joined the faculty at DWU this fall.

“The topic of opioid abuse is not new to anyone in law enforcement, but there has been a lot more media attention the past year on just how widespread its abuse is,” Reinesch said. “The attention it’s receiving is actually a good thing. I think that talking about a problem is a far more effective way of dealing with it than treating the subject as taboo. As a former police officer, I’ve seen what drug abuse does to families and I’ve also seen what happens when people commit to treatment. There can be a positive outcome.”

This panel will explore all aspects of opioid abuse from the law enforcement side to the medical side, from the addiction survivor’s side to the side of the family who suffered a loss.

“I want our criminal justice students to hear these sides, but I think that everyone in the community could benefit from this forum,” Reinesch said.

Reinesch has enlisted the help of several of his students to organize the event and they are joined by students in the freshman Core class, as well as several students in the DWU/LifeQuest Transition Program.

“Within our group project, we established a common desire to shed light on drug abuse. Especially after watching Angela’s personal story, we were all impacted and felt the need to continue spreading the word,” said freshman Emma Meyers, of Olivia, Minn. Meyers is a nonprofit administration major in the Core class that is assisting. “This is something that was important to all of us, especially being a younger generation that is encouraged to bring about change in the world. I would encourage everyone in the community to attend this panel, regardless of how drug abuse fits into their lives.”