SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – United States Attorney Ron Parsons announced that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Dakota, together with Avera Health, hosted a conference on “Addiction and Suicide: Communities in Crisis” on September 6, 2018 at the Sioux Falls Convention Center.
One of the highest priorities of the United States Department of Justice, as outlined by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is to reduce drug overdose deaths. “We are currently facing an addiction crisis of historic proportions: 64,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses in 2016, the highest drug death toll and fastest increase in American history. In 2017, 72,000 American lost their lives to drug overdoses.
That’s almost half of the population of Sioux Falls – vanishing in a single year. For Americans under the age of 50, drug overdose is now the leading cause of death. That wasn’t true even five years ago,” said U.S. Attorney Ron Parsons. “These are not just numbers – they are moms, dads, daughters and sons, spouses, friends, and neighbors. Addiction and suicide touch all levels of society, in every part of our state: large cities, small towns, Indian reservations, and rural areas alike.”
Suicide is also a growing problem across the nation and in South Dakota. “The state Department of Health reported 192 suicide deaths in South Dakota last year – the highest number ever recorded in the state. Suicide is third highest cause of death for children ages 5-14 in the state, and the second highest cause of death for young adults ages 15-24,” said Deb Fischer-Clemens, Senior Vice President for Public Policy at Avera Health. “Addiction and suicide are interrelated problems that are hitting right in the heart of America, right where we live.”
The keynote speaker for the conference was Ryan Leaf, former NFL player and collegiate football coach, who experienced addiction to prescription opioids and now is a voice for recovery, with a mission to reach anyone in need of hope.
More than 400 conference attendees also heard stories from individuals who had personal or family experience with the tragedies of addiction, depression and suicide. U.S. Attorney Parsons moderated a panel on Drug Crisis Intervention and Prevention with Dr. Benjamin Aaker, Emergency Medicine Specialist with Avera Medical Group, Sioux Falls Police Chief Matt Burns, and Dr. Kenneth Snell, Minnehaha County Coroner and Medical Examiner. In addition, Janet Kittams, President of the Helpline Center, and J.R. LaPlante, Director of Tribal Relations at Avera, moderated panels on the topic of Suicide Crisis Intervention and Prevention in general and from a tribal perspective.
This was the fifth annual conference sponsored by Avera and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to explore issues of justice, well-being and safety in our state and region. Past topics have included human trafficking, living with disabilities, child sexual abuse and the opioid epidemic.
The goal of the conference was to reduce overdose and suicide deaths by opening up a larger conversation between people from all walks of life in South Dakota. Attendees represented the legal system, government, health care, education, social work, ministries and more.
“I hope we can all consider ways in which we can reach out and intervene before that accident, before that arrest, before that overdose, before that suicide attempt or other moment of crisis,” said U.S. Attorney Parsons at the close of the conference. “And that we remember: there is always hope.”
SOURCE: news provided by JUSTICE.GOV on Friday, September 14, 2018.