As Peter Brunzelle, the executive director of, sees it, decriminalization of drugs can help open the doors for people with addiction and mental health issues.
Peter, who also teaches classes at UW-Milwaukee, spoke at the April 18 Waunakee Rotary meeting on the issue. provides in-house treatment for those struggling with mental health and addiction issues.
He noted that addiction takes years and years to develop, and treatment also doesn’t happen overnight.
Usually, those issues arise as the result of a trauma in a person’s young life that causes them to separate themselves. In order to feel better, that person may start to drink or use drugs.
“We know there’s an opioid epidemic. We all have connections in some way,” he said.
Genetics also plays a role, he said.
Peter spoke about his own experience growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness whose father, an alcoholic, abused him. When his parents divorced, and he went to live with his mother and stepfather, he had no fear, but he was shut off as a human being, he said.
“I let loose,” he said.
It all came to an end at the age of 17 when he was arrested and faced seven felony and 16 misdemeanor charges.
The judge said he had no regard for anyone or anything in his life. In adult court, he was sentenced to 90 days in solitary. As he listened to his fellow inmates there, people whom he had looked up to, they became surreal.
He thought about others he knew, foster parents and people who tried to reach out to him and realized “they walked in the world but didn’t have all that fear,” he said.
Facing 60 years in prison, Peter said he knew he was “hooked on drugs and alcohol,” adding, “I didn’t care when I started. But I said maybe I can walk in this world.”
That was in 1983, and he has been in recovery since.
Afterwards, he began to think of all of the people he could connect to and help, saying his life is filled with helping others who are struggling.
He doesn’t see addiction treatment as a black and white issue, but more of means of helping people build emotional intelligence, he said.
“It’s a different thought than ‘don’t do this, don’t do that,’ that is a much broader scope of helping others grow,” Peter added.
Absolute sobriety is not the only answer. Peter said in other countries where drugs have been decriminalized, many people choose to get off them.
Lisa Humenik, director of Waunakee Neighborhood Connection, and Steven Erickson of Waunakee Community Bank told the club about a new Neighbor to Neighbor Crisis Fund. It will be used for Waunakee area families whose lives are disrupted by traumatic events. Two committees will be formed to help distribute funds as either grants and no-interest loans, and work with the families. A goal of $10,000 was set; in two weeks, $5,000 has been raised. Lisa said she has seen families in crisis, such as those displaced by the recent fire, and a fund like this could help them.  
Guests: Peter Brunzelle, speaker, guest of the club.
Corporate Members: Jean Elvekrog and Steven Erickson.
Visiting Rotarians: None.
Birthdays: April 30, Harriet Statz.
Anniversaries: April 26, Sean and Holly Wayne; April 28, Scott and Melanie Cochems.
Programs: April 25, Mike Davis and Caitlin Stene, flood recovery in Middleton and Cross Plains; May 2, Lynn Wunderli, the art of dog training; May 9, Club Assembly and Rotary Membership: the Next Level for Club Growth; May 16, Michael Kalish, update on the high school sculpture project from the sculptor.
Greeters: April 25, Ed Niebuhr and George Ohlendorf; May  2, Linda Olson and Cindy Patzner; May 9, Danny Paul and Ken Pesik; May 16, James Pingel and Erick Plumb.