165 – The Intersection of Substance Abuse and Human Trafficking

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Dr. Sandra Morgan and Dave Stachowiak discuss the relationship between substance abuse and human trafficking. They also talk about drug use among youths and the best way to prevent. They wrap up by discussing the 2018 Ensure Justice conference and explain its focus on preventing substance abuse.

Key Points

  • Overdoses have surpassed car crashes as the main cause of death among young people.
  • The number-one cause of child abuse is a family member with a substance abuse issue.
  • People use drugs to self-medicate for pain in their lives.
  • The earlier kids start trying drugs, the more likely they are to develop an addiction.
  • It’s important to train health-care providers how to spot human trafficking victims because 87% of trafficking victims had been seen by a provider.
  • Prevention is best done through peer-led education.


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Dave: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 165, The Intersection of Substance Abuse and Human Trafficking.

Production Credits: [00:00:09] Produced by Innovate Learning, maximizing human potential.

Dave: [00:00:29] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie: [00:00:34] And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave: [00:00:37] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, so many of us have been hearing about substance abuse, and so many of the issues here within the states and within North America around substance abuse. And there’s just so many ways this plays out in our society right now. And of course, I guess I shouldn’t say of course but I don’t think it’s going to be a surprise, that there’s a link to human trafficking as well too. And I think we’re going to spend some time really exploring that in today’s conversation.

Sandie: [00:01:11] So the intersection between substance abuse and human trafficking is becoming a highly discussed topic now. With the media attention to the opioid crisis, we know that overdose as a cause of death has overtaken car crashes for young people. And that was a huge transition last year when the 2016 stats came in. And now we begin to see how it plays out in so many other areas. For me personally, it became a huge commitment to start planning Ensure Justice 2018. Back in January 2017, I was in the Orange County We Can Coalition meeting, and Dr. Anne Light read some information that they had pulled from some of their strategic planning as they reviewed what were the risk factors for child abuse in Orange County. And the number one thing they identified is a family member with an addiction, with a substance abuse issue. And for me that was like click, dominoes Falling. Because it’s kind of like reading a book where you get to a page and if you choose this page then you go on and you see the next part of the story or if you go over here you’ll see this and this. And so, when she said that because in the We Can coalition we’re trying to work to end child abuse and neglect. And those of you who have been listening for a long time to Ending Human Trafficking, you know that prevention of child abuse is a huge piece of ending the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Because if a child is abused, if a child is neglected there are so many repercussions. And we see then that they become more vulnerable to being recruited. They become more likely to run away from the violence or they’re taken out of the home for a very good reason because they need to be safe and they don’t like being taken out of the home, and so they run away from the security there. And it’s always important for listeners to understand that our group homes for youth are safe, no one can get in and harm our children. But they are not secure, that children these young people 14 or 15 years old can run away and we cannot restrain them. So, what are the issues around substance abuse and human trafficking? That’s what we want to talk about.

Dave: [00:04:03] It’s reminding me Sandie of the conversation we’ve had many times on the show, and you and I personally too, of the connections between some of the real challenges we have in our society and human trafficking. And homelessness is one that comes up to my mind too, and we think about child abuse and homelessness and some of these other factors, that on their face we don’t think about in the same lens. At least I didn’t use to with human trafficking and they are often the starting point for the risk factors that then lead to human trafficking. So, like you’ve always been saying prevention and how can we really look at some of the core, maybe it’s not fair to say the exact word cause, but things that really do influence someone getting in the situation that ends up being human trafficking.

Sandie: [00:04:51] Well and if you think about a child who’s experiencing a lot of abuse, they’re suffering, and they’re looking for some kind of relief. And one of their friends offers them something and they begin to use that to self-medicate for the pain in their lives. It’s emotional pain, there may be also a physical pain but that begins an addiction journey that when it’s discovered everybody says, “well why did this happen to this kid? Why did he do that? Why did he make such poor decisions?” And people don’t look back to find out that there was a place where that could have been changed. And so, we’re back in that book, choosing another ending. And this child has an addiction issue that started because of something else in his life. And we’re going to at Ensure Justice talk about addiction, and the brain, and the science of the brain. And it’s absolutely important for parents to understand that kids experimenting at a young age, they’re actually more vulnerable to long-term addiction, the earlier they start trying drugs. So, you start down that chapter and you have a whole different scenario. And my concern for parents is that they feel like our house is safe, and so my kids are safe. But they need to be able to understand the trends out there, the way social media drives attention and opportunity creates opportunities. So, one of the workshops that we have at Ensure Justice, we’re pulling in an expert from our Orange County Department of Education, and Steven Lambert is going to do a professional workshop for educators and social workers. But he’s also really passionate about equipping parents. And he sat in my office and we talked about the parents, and how do we connect with them? And we’re going to work on doing the same thing in Spanish. You know we’ve been doing a lot more in Spanish for our Spanish speaking community that we really appreciate. This is a good moment to say that besides having the Spanish workshops track and Spanish translation for the plenaries, we just launched Terminando Con La Trata. Do you know what that means Dave?

Dave: [00:07:36] Ending human trafficking in Spanish.

Sandie: [00:07:38] That’s good! That’s right. And it has already taken off with a bang. We got a notice yesterday that a radio station in Argentina has picked it up and said, “Why don’t you produce every week instead of only every two weeks.”.

Dave: [00:07:56] That’s great.

Sandie: [00:07:57] But we’re sticking with two weeks because we’ve got to do what we can do well right. Well and I don’t know if we mentioned on the show before, but just for folks who may have missed the reference, that we have launched the podcast now in Spanish. And just for clarity, I knew the title in advance. I don’t know Spanish. So, it’s not us doing it, but we have a new part of our team.

Sandie: [00:08:15] Our team to do the Spanish broadcast is Virginia and Gilbert Contreras. Virginia has been a big follower and we’ve actually had them on the podcast. When I was visiting in Argentina, because they live in Cordoba, Argentina. And that’s where they’ll be producing the podcast.

Dave: [00:08:40] Fabulous. So, if you know someone who’s a Spanish speaker or prefers to listen in Spanish, the podcast is up and running, ready to go.

Sandie: [00:08:46] And all you have to do is go to endinghumantrafficking.org. We really have to shout out to Andrew, because he keeps that web page really sharp and moving. And he’s put a link right at the top so you can choose English or Spanish when you go to either website.

Dave: [00:09:06] One of the things that I’m curious about, Sandie, you’ve been thinking and the entire team has been thinking about this conference for quite a while now and of course we’re seeing substance abuse in the news so much these days, as we should because it’s such a huge issue. When folks come to the conference here in March. What is it that you hope they will come to ask? Because I mean the conference will answer a lot of those questions, but what are you hoping people come seeking?

Sandie: [00:09:35] Well, I hope that people come ready to sharpen their personal set of skills, in whatever their profession is. I know we have dozens of child welfare folks joining us from at least four counties right now. We have educators joining us. So, children, that’s really important, but we’re also looking at parents and parents who have substance abuse issues. How do you as a community service provider help that young woman who’s about to lose her son or her daughter because of addiction? And there are lots of programs and opportunities to do referrals. And I especially want church leaders to come. These people with these kinds of challenges are sitting in your church, and they want help but they don’t ask. They just don’t ask. So how can you reach out, and be ready, and know where to send them for really excellent, best practice rehabilitation. And how do you help them once they’re through that, to maintain, and to do the work they have to do to get their kids back. Because we want children to grow up in a home with their parents. And those kids want the same thing.

Dave: [00:10:59] One of the things I know you’re always mindful of what the conference is really trying to provide, not only answers to some of those questions, but provide the relationships, and the partnerships, and the community that really comes alongside in order to do that well. What are the relationships and partnerships that you see as most important are coming together in this year’s conference?

Sandie: [00:11:18] You know if you take a look at the speakers on ensurejustice.com, you’ll see that we have the brand-new director of the office on Trafficking in Persons in Health and Human Services. And they are creating wonderful resources that are available to service providers across the nation. So, Katherine Chon will be with us. Our good friend and speaker last year from DEA, from Drug Enforcement Agency, Deborah Agustín will be back. And her expertise is so valuable for community service providers, for educators, and for parents. And so, she’s bringing those kinds of resources. I mean have you ever had in your hand a pullout picture, I don’t even know how to describe it, but she’s got pictures of every kind of pill and drug that’s out there. And I discovered I’m really naive. And yet here I am on a college campus. Here I am in a community where we know we have evidence that kids are being lured into using drugs. And so how do I become part of that. The other community that I’m particularly excited about is the medical community we have Dr. Anne Light back with us again, and she is the medical director for social services here in Orange County. But we also have an entire workshop just by doctors from the University of Kentucky in their nursing school that will help health care providers improve their skills and they’ll be continuing education. Dr. Jodi Quas, from UCI, absolutely an amazing forensic interview specialist and understands how children with trauma think. And she’s going to teach us how to talk to them. Now, this isn’t just for parents. How do you talk to your kids? This is for law enforcement that is going to be there on the street and they don’t understand sometimes why the victims, girls, and boys, don’t talk to them, don’t say help me, don’t raise their hand. They actually go the other direction and they may actually respond in very negative ways. Jodi Quas will help us have a better understanding not only of why they do i

Dave: [00:13:59] I know so many of these situations, of course, are unique, and yet we do see patterns that emerge. One of the things I know that you want for our listeners but also people at the conference is to have an understanding of some of the framework of some of those typical patterns we see. I know you’ve done some thinking around it as far as just thinking about it like a book and some of the typical scenes that you would see in a situation that comes up with this. Can you say a little more about that about what that looks like and why it’s helpful to frame it that way?

Sandie: [00:14:30] Well, because of my background in nursing, that seeing health care providers trained is super important because we know that there are patterns where the victims actually show up in our emergency rooms, in our clinics. And we actually interviewed Dr. Laura Letter after she published her research that showed over 87 percent of those victims had been seen by a healthcare provider. And actually, I was just reading a blog and Dr. Hanni Stoklosa, who is president of HEAL, she posted a great story and maybe you can read that, Dave, because I put it in our show notes.

Dave: [00:15:19] She writes, “Beth, not her real name, was a 20-year-old female hooked on heroin and was being discharged from a detox facility when she met a man who promised to provide a consistent supply of heroin. Thus, began a nightmare for Beth. She was locked in a motel room in Rhode Island, forced to service over 200 men. When she finally escaped her first stop was my emergency department. She came to my hospital to escape trafficking, for treatment of her depression and heroin addiction, and for medical attention. She waited and waited for an opening and the dual diagnosis facility that would be able to help her with both addiction and depression, the very things that led to her being trafficked in the first place. But when there were no beds in sight. Beth decided to take her chances on her own. She walked out of our emergency department, back out into the cold.”

Sandie: [00:16:10] And I get a little emotional hearing that story. Ensure Justice, we call our conference Ensure Justice because we want to make things right for people, we want to ensure justice for those being crushed, like Beth. Back out in the cold and where did she end up? How can we do a much better job of that? And when we start trying to climb these mountains, and they are huge, we cannot do that alone. We have to do that as a community. We have to take the image that we talk about so often, this giant jug with handles all over it and that’s why the workshops are so driven by the professions that may encounter these victims. And also, because we’ve got to have hope. We want to focus on prevention and that’s why we want to work with educators always. Ad our Live2Free students are going to be there going down that path of how they do participant observer bystander model prevention in the schools. And this is the year, and we hope we have news about it at Ensure Justice, where we’re going to launch online training for starting a Live2Free club. And it would really help me move that along if listeners that hear that would e-mail, or send us a post, somehow communicate to us that you would love to start a Live2Free club in your high school or in your middle school. Because prevention is best by youth-led peer to peer education.

Dave: [00:17:53] We’ve talked about Live2Free before, but for new listeners who aren’t aware, what is Live2Free and what’s the aim of the organization?

Sandie: [00:18:01] Live2Free is our college mobilization team and they go out and do presentations in the high school, they engage with kids, they tell them the risks, but their curriculum is not about “you better be careful” it’s more about how do you make your community safer. So, they really engage them as community partners and they help them. We’ve talked about how the adolescent brain is not very interested in mom and dad telling them what not to do. They disregard it and they say back to Dad and Mom, and Dave, when you’ve got teenagers you might hear this, be ready, “Oh don’t worry. Trust me, that’s not going to happen to me.” So, they have a sense of invincibility but they don’t have that same sense of invincibility for their friend. So, if you talk about the risks and how you might be the one to protect your friend if somebody says let’s meet at the mall you can protect your friends. So, working with youth to help build that community that’s youth-led and that is peer to peer prevention.

Dave: [00:19:14] I remember you saying at one of our recent board meetings, one of our new board members was asking about high school student and her network that we wanted to get involved in these efforts. And one of the points you made is that a lot of schools, and I remember this when I was a kid, of motivational speakers coming in, adults doing training programs. And that really you and many people who are doing this are learning that it’s peer to peer mentoring and coaching that’s really working. Like you said kids there tends not to be the research it sounds like it supports that an adult coming in and delivering a program, is going to make a meaningful change. But when peers come in and are approaching it from a community aspect and influencing each other within the school, that that really does make a big difference. That moves the needle substantially.

Sandie: [00:20:03] Absolutely. And a safe community, that is key during this opioid crisis to protecting our kids. And you can’t do it just at the schools, you can’t do it just by educating emergency room personnel. It really has to be the community, so we design Ensure Justice so that the community is together in the same room. And you’ll be with attorneys, and law enforcement, and child welfare, and social services, and educators, and nurses, and doctors. We need to all find our place to carry this forward, and it is so complex. When I was on a webinar this morning someone said there are a hundred different ways of intersecting with substance abuse and human trafficking. We could never address everything in one podcast or even at Ensure Justice. But this is going to get us a head start to build those kinds of safety nets in our community.

Dave: [00:21:09] I think just about every year to Ensure Justice, there has been at least one person and in any case multiple people who have attended the conference because they listen to the podcast, they’ve heard us talk about the conference over the years or just recently. And Sandie, what do you tend to hear from first-time attendees of the conference about what they gain from the experience?

Sandie: [00:21:28] Well they run out of space in the program to take all their notes. So, they’re looking for something else to write on. So, there is a lot of rich content, we hear that. But over and over again, and for years to come, it’s the people they met. And for my students, for Vanguard students, they engage with professionals and other university students can come. Send your students from anywhere nearby or far away, because they engage with the professionals in our drug enforcement, in homeland security, in health and human services, and eventually that shapes how they decide to fight this issue. It establishes a career trajectory and we have amazing professionals out there fighting human trafficking whether in law enforcement or in social services that are Vanguard alumni because they met somebody at Ensure Justice.

Dave: [00:22:31] We were going to be airing this right as the early bird registration is coming to a close for this conference. So, if that’s you, and you’ve not attended the conference before, and are looking to really start to create some of those relationships. And as Sandie said, there’s so much content of course. And there’s a lot you can get in content even going out on the Internet, listening to the show of course, but nothing replaces the opportunity to build those relationships. And so many conferences are great at doing that Sandie and certainly Ensure Justice is no exception to that. What’s the best way for folks to get involved if they do want to take advantage of the early bird offer?

Sandie: [00:23:07] Just go to ensurejustice.com. You can go through the list of speakers and you can register. If you want to learn more, there’s a sponsorship package in case you’re an exhibitor and you want to have a table there. Ensurejustice.com has everything you need.

Dave: [00:23:28] Well we hope that you will take us up on our invitation to check out the conference and consider attending this year. It is from March 2nd through 3rd, 2018 here in Southern California on the campus of Vanguard University. Again, it’s at ensurejustice.com. And maybe questions come up for you about the conference or perhaps today’s topic on substance abuse, which of course we’ll be going into depth of the conference. But maybe you’re wondering about something else related to substance abuse and trafficking. I hope you’ll take a moment to e-mail us with any of those questions you can send that e-mail to feedback at endinghumantrafficking.org. And of course, you’re always welcome to visit the website we’ve mentioned just a few minutes ago endinghumantrafficking.org our entire library is there. So, Sandie, I’ll see you back in two weeks and of course coming up here for the conference as well.

Sandie: [00:24:25] Thanks, Dave.

Dave: [00:24:26] Thanks, everyone. Take care and see you in two weeks.

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