conley6.gif (2529 bytes)

 

District: Drug-testing policy a tool to prevent problems  
Parents concerned about privacy, inclusiveness

By Katherine Michalets - Special to the Enterprise 

Oct. 30, 2014

OCONOMOWOC — In an effort to craft a random drug test policy for the Oconomowoc Area School District that takes into consideration feedback from the community, an informational meeting was held Monday night at the high school.

A few dozen people attended the meeting and questions were raised about privacy, supporting data, the exclusion of some students and how positive and negative results would be handled.

Pat and Pete Williams, who live right behind the high school’s football field, raised four children and took in 11 foster children, as well as some of their own grandchildren, so they are familiar with what it’s like to raise a teenager.

At the closing of the one-hour presentation and Q-and-A meeting Monday, Pat Williams said “parents are the last to know these kids have a problem.”

She encouraged parents to take any help they can get from the district in monitoring their children.

Earlier in the evening, Williams expressed concern about some students who she called “underachievers” being excluded from the drug testing, “I’d like to see them all get a chance of getting tested,” she said. “Why are you only targeting the overachievers?”

The proposed policy would affect intermediate and high school students. As a result of rights guaranteed in the Constitution, only students participating in a voluntary sport or co-curricular activity or who exercise the privilege of parking a motor vehicle in the district parking lot during the school day can be randomly tested. Substances that will be tested for by a contracted third party would include marijuana and opiates such as heroin, oxycodone, ecstasy, methadone, barbiturates and methamphetamines.

The testing of students will occur on a random basis and students will be selected by a number assigned to them. The student services director will supervise the selection of student numbers for testing and a computerbased system designed specifically for the purpose of randomly selecting students will be utilized.

Jessica Karnowski has children in fifth and fourth grades and 4K and expressed concern about whether drug testing deters drug use. She wanted to know what else the district is doing to prevent drug use among students.

She also felt that parents should get the final say about whether a child, especially for those as young as seventh grade, is tested and called the district’s proposed policy a “bullying tactic.”

Lisa Dawes, director of student services, said there was delicate discussion of whether to include seventh- and eighth-graders in the drug testing, but the district has heard from students that there is use of drugs at that age.

“We don’t always know,” Dawes said, referring to being a parent of a child. “Our goal is to help parents know before it becomes a problem.”

OHS counselor Scott Bakkum said the district has used many presentations and resources to help inform students about dangers to help prevent problems from occurring, such as the Stairway to Heroin events and Your Choice.

He suggested not looking at the drug testing as being punitive, but rather as a tool.

“We are in a different place than we were a few years ago,” Bakkum said.

Students were surveyed as part of the Stairway to Heroin program and he said the results were scary.

In order to create the draft policy, which would need to be approved by the School Board before being implemented, policies from area districts, including Muskego, Pewaukee and Arrowhead, were reviewed. The school district has also met with parent groups and clubs to gather feedback.

The next step will be for the policy to be reviewed by the curriculum committee and then will go to the full School Board likely in January, Dawes said. If approved, the district would have the rest of the school year to figure out logistics and then implement the policy for the 2015-2016 school year.

“(The policy) is meant to be preventative and to give kids a powerful reason to say no,” Dawes said.


Frequently asked questions about the OASD drug-testing policy:

How often will screenings take place?


Students become eligible for random drug testing on the first day they participate in practice, an activity or performance associated with a sport or extracurricular activity or request a parking permit.


What will the drug test entail?

Random urine tests will be conducted by a drug screen technician as a contracted outside agency of the district. The drug screen will be conducted on site in a designated private restroom. The agency will supervise the test; however, will not provide direct observation while the sample is being submitted.


What are the consequences of a positive drug test? No student shall be expelled or suspended from school as a sole result of any verified positive test conducted by the school under this program. However, students with a verified positive test under this program will be subject to the conditions set forth in the athletics/activities code. Student drug-testing information will not be turned over to any law enforcement authorities except under circumstances in which the district is legally compelled to surrender or disclose such test results.


How will the results be shared and kept private? Who will see the results? Testing results will be kept in a confidential file separate from the student’s other educational records. Results will only be disclosed to the administration personnel who have a need to be informed in order to implement or oversee implementation of the policy or consequences for violating the policy.


What is a student refuses to take a drug test? Will the refusal be construed as a drug-positive result?

The student will remain ineligible and parking privileges will be revoked until the student is tested.


How can a student contest the results of a positive drug test? Will a second confirming test be done?
Students will have an opportunity within 48 hours of notification of the first positive test result to have the split samples tested at the family’s expense.

Source: Oconomowoc Area School District

 

 

‘The devil is in our town’
Stairway to Heroin II hits home with recollections of those lost to addiction, message of hope to those struggling
By Josh Perttunen - Enterprise Staff 
Oct. 16, 2014


OCONOMOWOC — Candid discussion silenced a crowd of more than 800 people Tuesday evening, when community members heard firsthand how heroin has devastated the lives of their friends and neighbors in Lake Country.

The Stairway to Heroin II presentation at the Oconomowoc Arts Center included stories of loved ones lost to addiction, journeys back from the brink, law enforcement’s perspective and the medical community’s input into the problem.

Oconomowoc High School senior Augie Badura, 17, shares his story at the Stairway to Heroin II presentation. His older brother Archie Badura, 19, overdosed on heroin in May. 
Josh Perttunen/Freeman Staff


A parent’s worst nightmare

Jody Medinger warned the audience that what she had to say was a parent’s worst nightmare.

She woke up from a nap on Jan. 4, went downstairs and found her daughter Samantha, 24, dead on the living room couch. Her daughter, she said, was a high-honor student who had been raised with a drug-free philosophy.

“There is a misconception that this only happens in bad families, in poor families, in families who don’t care,” Medinger said. “That’s not true. This disease does not discriminate. Samantha was known as the kid who didn’t do drugs. I knew all her friends and I knew all her friends’ parents.”

But the seed for addiction was planted when Samantha was prescribed opiate painkillers after surgery on her wisdom tooth.

“My good, smart, kid made one stupid, boneheaded decision,” Medinger said. “She chopped up a pill and snorted it and she — these are her words — ‘fell in love.’” Medinger said Samantha would struggle with heroin and opiate addiction for six years.

“Unbeknownst to myself, her father, her boyfriend, her doctor and her family, she had started using again,” Medinger said of that fateful day. “She had decided to take a shot before she went out for the evening with her boyfriend. Samantha did not intend to die that day; she intended to go out to dinner with her boyfriend.”

Speaking to a hushed audience, Medinger said her heartbreak proves that addiction can claim anyone.

“Samantha was gorgeous, sassy, gutsy, intelligent, funny and a wildly creative artist,” she said. “Heroin took it all, every last bit of Samantha, then it took her life.”

“I grew up in this town and my daughter grew up in this town. And the devil is in this town. The devil’s name is heroin.”

Chris Gleason, director of Rosecrance McHenry County, talks about his road to recovery, emphasizing that recovering addicts need hope and a strong sense of what they are good at to stave off addiction.  
Josh Perttunen/Freeman Staff


The discussion

Though painful to hear, stories like Medinger’s drive home the point that heroin is a very real problem among the community’s youths, said Oconomowoc High School Principal Joseph Moylan. “If we shy away from this discussion as a community, we are putting kids at risk,” he said.

Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel also did his best to put things in perspective.

He said he has met too many families who are still struggling to comprehend how this addiction sunk its claws into their child. They’ve slid report cards across the table, marked with all A’s — or produced photographs of their child in a Boy Scout or team uniform.

“They wanted to convince me that their child wasn’t a bad child.” Schimel said. “Out of all of these parents who’ve experienced these tragedies, I’ve yet to meet the one where their child was the ‘bad’ child.”

Schimel also shared figures that highlight the epidemic.

Wisconsin has seen the number of opiate-related deaths per year nearly quadruple from 2000 to 2011, he said, jumping from 2.19 per 100,000 to 8.08 per 100,000. The number of visits to hospitals for heroin and opiate overdoses has also quadrupled. Using Narcan, EMS and hospital personnel — along with heroin users themselves — have brought more than 5,000 people who’ve overdosed back from the brink of death this year.

Additionally, Waukesha County has submitted the second-highest amount of heroin to the state crime lab, which Schimel attributes to both the prevalence of the drug and the county’s aggressive policy to thwart it. Another telling figure, he said, is that needle exchanges in the southeastern Wisconsin region have jumped from 170,000 needles exchanged in 2008 to more than 700,000 in 2012.

“Every way you measure this, we’re in trouble,” Schimel said, noting that figures like traffic deaths have fluctuated from year to year, while the amount heroin deaths has not stopped climbing.

“If we saw traffic deaths going up and up and up like this, what would be prepared to do about it?” he asked. “I think we’d do crazy things. Like putting a roundabout every 200 feet.”

Gains are being made using options like the drug treatment court, Schimel said, but stemming the tide of addiction will require continued funding and potentially drastic measures.

“Are we making progress? Yes. But we are driving a Model A and the problem just blew by us in a red Ferrari.”
 

High school seniors share their stories

A trio of high school seniors shared their experiences with the devastation heroin can cause. Augie Badura and Emma Pond spoke of the brothers they lost to addiction, while Ashley Herbst spoke of how she battled back from the brink.

Augie, 17, said he lost his older brother Archie, 19, in May. Archie, he said, was extensively involved with the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Nashotah and beloved by the parishioners there.

“We thought he might someday grow up to work at the church,” Augie said. “Not be dead at 19 years old.”

After a childhood filled with fun, friends and laughter, Augie said his brother started smoking marijuana in high school, rationalizing that it was the best cure for his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Efforts to send him to boot camp could not halt his developing addictions, Augie said.

With the assistance of counselors and other school staff, Archie was able to graduate in 2013 — a milestone that meant a lot to him and his family.

But, Augie said his family could see him slipping away after that.

“He turned down great schools and job opportunities,” he said. When Archie started using opiates and told his brother, Augie said that he thought it was just a phase and didn’t tell his parents. When Archie confided later that he had used heroin for the first time, he told his brother he would never do it again. In retrospect, Augie said he should have sidestepped all of those assurances and rationalizations to get him the support he needed.

Senior Emma Pond shared memories of her brother Daniel juggling, doing the “Carlton” dance from “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and making people laugh in any situation. He became addicted to pain pills after he received them during recovery from a torn ACL, she said.

Senior Ashley Herbst shared her story as a recovering addict, who was able to battle back from the brink after her secret use of heroin was discovered by Milwaukee Police on Jan. 1.

She had been at the point, she said, where she was using all of her money on drugs and “wasn’t using to feel high anymore, but to feel normal.”

Herbst will be nine months sober this month.


Pre-emptive measures

Moylan offered measures he believes can help combat these addictions before they begin.

First, he said, students must realize that they’re not invulnerable, a phenomenon he called the Superman myth.

“They believe ‘it can’t happen to me, I’m invincible, I can quit whenever I want,’” he said. “So you drink a little beer, you smoke a little pot; it’s no big deal, everybody does it. But, no heroin addict ever started by using heroin.”

Parents bear a responsibility, he added, and some must ditch preconceptions about their own behaviors.

“They believe things like ‘I did it when I was younger, so it can’t be that bad,’ or ‘If I take the keys and nobody drives, it’s OK to have a drink at my house.’ These messages to our children reinforce the need for our kids to use to feel better,” he said. “It starts them on a path we may not see them return from. We need to end the adult participation in the cycle.”

Moylan also suggested parents and other adults make use of the prescription drop-off at the police station.

“You have to know what a gift having a drop-off in the community is,” he said, noting that pills can’t just be returned to the pharmacy. “You have an opportunity to get those drugs now out of your house when you’re not using them and nobody will get into your personal supply.”


‘There is a face and a name to it’

Adding student and family testimonials to the program has made it a more powerful presentation, Moylan said, adding that the program was presented to students at the high school and middle school earlier on Tuesday.

“It makes it more real for the kids,” he said. “There is a face and a name to it. These are kids that they see every day, that they like, that are popular. It’s heroism for them to stand in front of the peers and share their story.”

Email:

 

Flames held high at Badura prayer vigil

NASHOTAH — A brief candlelight prayer vigil for Archie Badura, held at the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Nashotah, immediately followed the Stairway to Heroin II presentation on Tuesday evening.
 

Augie Badura, center, and parents Andy and Lauri are overcome with emotion Tuesday evening at the prayer vigil for Archie Badura, who died of a heroin overdose May 15. The vigil was held at the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Nashotah.   
Josh Perttunen/Freeman Staff

Those in attendance held their candles high and slowly cycled through the church as the young man was fondly remembered — and light was shed on the addiction he and others have dealt with, or will deal with.

Members of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church raise their candles Tuesday evening as “This Little Light of Mine' is performed as part of a prayer vigil for Archie Badura.    
Josh Perttunen/Freeman Staff

People were invited to bring a picture of a loved one that has been lost to addiction, suicide or mental illness to place on Archie’s memorial, or to bring along someone who is in recovery from addiction.

— Enterprise Staff

 

A closer look at random drug policies in other districts
Pewaukee has had policy in place for 10 years, Arrowhead for 8
By Josh Perttunen - Enterprise Staff 
Oct. 9, 2014




OCONOMOWOC — As the Oconomowoc Area School District fine-tunes a random drug-testing policy to bring before district parents and its school board, the architects of that plan say they are aware that other schools in the county have approved similar policies.

The policy being mulled in Oconomowoc would require students to comply with random drug tests as a condition of participation in any school athletics, clubs or organizations. Testing could extend to other school-related privileges, such as the ownership of a parking pass, as well.

“The impetus for this policy stems from the students we lost last year due to drug use,” said Lisa Dawes, the district’s director of student services and special education.


Pewaukee policy has been in place for decade

Pewaukee High School’s random drug testing policy has been in place for a decade now.

PHS Principal Marty Van Hulle remembered when the district started discussing the policy in February 2003. The school board had charged administration with the task of surveying the community to gauge what steps they wanted the district to take.

“We were just trying to deter students from using drugs,” Van Hulle said. “There was no watershed moment, we were trying to be proactive.”

The policy applies to any club or group that has an adviser or coach. It applies to approximately 75 percent of the student body, Van Hulle estimated.

OHS Athletic Director Scott Raduka said linking random drug tests to the combination of privileges proposed in his district could affect an estimated 1,043 students, which affects approximately 70 percent of the student body. Currently, no OASD students are tested.

The first time a student tests positive for banned drugs in Pewaukee, no matter what type of drugs, he or she will miss 30 percent of the season, Van Hulle said. The second offense yields a 50 percent suspension and the third offense is a lifetime ban from participation. Results are not referred to law enforcement.

To date, Van Hulle said the policy had its desired impact and has not needed to be tweaked in the last 10 years.

“The key was that it had to be truly random and confidential,” he added. “The testing company generates a list of numbers, that we then match to the corresponding students. If a student is absent, they don’t take the test that day, but are on the list for next month.”

In the system used by PHS, even the dates are randomly generated. The whole testing and communication of results is handled by the professionals at the laboratory, Van Hulle said.

Extending the policy to include students’ parking privileges is something his district did not consider, he said, and he is not aware if that can be done.

“This policy took a lot of time, a lot of communication and a lot of involvement with students and parents,” Van Hulle said. “It’s not an overnight decision, to say the least.”

Now that it’s been implemented, Van Hulle said he’d recommend a similar policy for every school district.

“I don’t think that it’s ever a bad thing to try and deter kids from things that are unhealthy or illegal,” he said.
 

Confidentiality is key at Arrowhead High School

Arrowhead Union High School formulated its random drug test policy just two years after Pewaukee’s was put into place.

Superintendent Craig Jefson was just starting his tenure during its first year of implementation, but knew that the policy was riding a wave of community support.

“There was extensive surveying done of the community and parents,” he said. “They felt like it was everybody’s responsibility to deter students from drug use — including law enforcement, medical professionals and also the responsibility of community members and parents. They felt the school had to play a role and asked what we were going to do about it.”

Maintaining strict confidentiality and clear objectives have been crucial parts of the process, Jefson said. Random number generators generate numbers monthly, which correspond to 20 students tested per campus.

The results of those tests, administered by ProHealth Care professionals during the school year, are only shared with Jefson as yearend figures, he said, and the assistant principals are the only ones who know individual results.

“It’s as confidential as possible,” he added. “We didn’t want to become Big Brother, we didn’t want to be punitive. We just wanted to give students another reason to say ‘no.’ If we’re the excuse that they need, let us be that excuse.”

The district didn’t want anything else to muddy the objective when crafting the policy, Jefson said. Linking the testing to parking passes was debated, but ultimately the district didn’t want to go that route and was uncertain if it was legally permissable.

Jefson estimated 60 percent of the student body is involved in athletics, 30 percent in music and 35 percent in other activities. The cumulative cost for testing is $12,000 to $15,000, which is picked up by the school district. With that level of investment, Jefson said it is important to focus on results.

“Though we don’t have many tests come back positive — and most of those are for nicotine — the assistant principals feel strongly that this policy is a deterrent,” he said. “To back that up, there have been student surveys and anecdotal conversations with students where they cite it as a deterrent.”

There must be vigilance in being aware of unintended consequences, Jefson said.

“A kid who tests positive could continue using chemicals and decide to quit the activity where he or she was doing positive things,” he said. “This would be counterproductive. Coaches have to help students who may be reactionary to realize that we are offering help.”

And the parents still play the most important role, he added.


What will Oconomowoc do?

Whether to implement the policy in the Oconomowoc district — which would apply from seventh grade on up — is a decision that the school board will discuss and make a decision on over the course of the next few months. Board President Don Wiemer said this topic was visited nearly 10 years ago and tabled because of concerns, such as how the district would deal with false positives.

Some of those concerns have been addressed since then, with input from the district administrative team, alcohol and other drug abuse coordinator, high school principal, athletic director and the district’s AODA committee.

A parent information night, where residents will be empowered to ask questions on the proposed policy, is being held at the Oconomowoc Arts Center at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 27.

Email:


Community U to tackle area drug problem
By JOE VANDELAARSCHOT - Daily News 
Oct. 1, 2014


The growing problem of illegal drugs, especially heroin, is a community issue that Hartford Rotary’s new president, Police Chief David Groves, hopes the club and the community can address together and see results.

Part of that effort includes a program called Hartford Community U at Hartford Union High School at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

“I looked around and thought about what things we (the Rotary) would like to address as a pressing issue,” Groves said. “It’s our goal to share hope with the many members of our community dealing with the issue of illegal drug use.”

The free community-wide forum will feature presenters from the perspectives of education, advocacy, prevention and law enforcement. There will also be presentations from family members and former addicts regarding the impact these issues are having on lives.

“Narcotic abuse and addiction has become an epidemic in our society,” Groves said. “The Hartford Rotary Club believes that an informed community is a safer community.”

Groves said the drug problem affects the community in ways that aren’t easily seen.

Groves said his department has been dealing with local human resource departments.

“Some have confided in us that even when they tell people about an upcoming drug test, still one in four don’t pass,” Groves said. “So this is not a small thing.”

Groves said Washington County in 2012, according to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, was one of the seven counties in the state that submitted 30 or more heroin cases to the state crime lab.

“That same year the county was also in the top 11 for heroin overdoses,” Groves said.

Al Davies, EMS coordinator at Aurora Medical Center in Hartford, has worked to train local police officers and emergency personnel how to administer Narcan, a drug used to revive people who have overdosed on heroin.

“There’s been a serious increase in the volume of people we see who have used it,” Davies said. “There’s been a marked rise this year from last year. I know Narcan has been used on several occasions by emergency personnel around here.”

Groves said many robberies and other crimes committed in Hartford and the area are related to people needing money to purchase illegal drugs.


 

School leaders learn signs of drug use
By LINDA MCALPINE - Daily News 
Sept. 25, 2014


 West Bend School District principals and administrators listen as Hartland Police Department Detective Matt Harper explains how a variety of items are connected to illegal drug use. The educators spent Tuesday and Wednesday learning how to spot students who may be impaired from drug or alcohol abuse during a workshop held at the district’s Education Service Center.
Linda McAlpine/Daily News

Fluttering eyelids, body tremors, loss of balance — these physical signs may indicate a person is impaired from alcohol or drugs, symptoms that more than a dozen principals and administrators in the West Bend School District have spent the past two days learning about.

“We’re not going to pretend that we don’t have drugs in the West Bend School District. We want to be proactive so we can continue to keep our children safe,” district Superintendent Ted Neitzke said Wednesday during a break in the workshop “Drug Impairment Training for Educational Professionals.”

The West Bend Police Department organized the training sessions, led by Steve Krejci of the Milwaukee Police Department and Matt Harper, a detective with the Hartland Police Department.

On Tuesday, the educators learned about drugs — legal and illegal — that can be abused, from depressants and stimulants to hallucinogens and narcotics.

Wednesday’s session was dedicated to learning the physical symptoms connected to drug and alcohol abuse, and becoming acquainted with a variety of items that can be associated with drug use.

“You might not see the heroin, but if you start finding discolored cotton balls laying around, you might have a student who is injecting heroin,” Harper said. “The cotton balls are used as a filter.”

Finding bits of tin foil or the corners of plastic bags — the packaging that some drugs come in — can also be a sign of drug use, Harper said.


Harper pointed out some ordinary household products can be abused to produce a drug “high.”

He also shared some of the ways that students may use to conceal alcohol or drug usage.

“This kind of training is really beneficial for educators because they get to see and touch the different drugs and the paraphernalia that is associated with drug abuse,” Harper said during a break. “They’re learning what to look for that might tip them off to a student using drugs in addition to the physical symptoms.”

Krejci said the workshop also teaches the educators what the current drug trends are in schools.

Janelle Townsend, assistant principal at the West Bend high schools, said one of the things that impressed her was “how creative students can be when it comes to concealing drugs.”

Harper demonstrated several items that can easily be purchased online to “hide their stash.”

Principals from the district’s elementary, middle and high schools attended the workshop.

“I can guarantee that after these sessions, they will start to look at their students differently,” Neitzke said of those who attended the workshop. “They will now have a level of awareness about drugs that maybe they didn’t have before and they will start seeing things that they didn’t before.”

Neitzke said the district will hold meetings in the near future to share information about drug and alcohol abuse with parents.

“We also want to create a culture amongst our students that if they see something, they should say something,” Neitzke said. “We will also be looking at writing district policies that include a higher level of consequences for students using drugs or alcohol but that also include a level of support to help them.”


 

County drug coalition reviews ‘five pillar’ approach to stopping opioid crisis
By Matt Masterson - Freeman Staff 
Sept. 25, 2014


WAUKESHA — The Drug Coalition of Waukesha County convened for its second meeting Wednesday to continue discussing possible solutions for the area’s ongoing opioid crisis, while also looking at some of its youngest victims.

The group — comprised of representatives from county government, health care, law enforcement and education — invited two members from the Wisconsin’s Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Prevention Committee Heroin Ad-hoc Committee to talk about what the state has done to curb opioid addiction.

Christy Niemuth, prevention coordinator for Wisconsin’s Division of Mental Health & Substance Abuse services, introduced a “five pillar“ strategy that seeks to balance public order and health to forge a safe and healthy community. The pillars include prevention, law enforcement, treatment, harm reduction and workforce issues. “We needed to broaden our scope,” she said. “We felt that if we focused our efforts on those five buckets... we could really begin developing some specific recommendations for folks working in each of those fields and come up with a collaborative, community-wide approach that would affect all areas.”

Data from a recent Ad-hoc Committee report was also presented showing the number of counties in Wisconsin that have reported heroin overdoses has grown from 20 in 2008 to more than 50 in 2012, the most recent year with available data.

The coalition split into three smaller groups during Wednesday’s meeting, based on three of the pillars: reduction, law enforcement and treatment. Following hourlong individual discussions by the groups, the full coalition came back together and offered possible solutions such as increasing the county’s drug court and creating a new drug awareness education system to replace DARE.

County Executive Dan Vrakas also suggested compiling a list of local organizations that families in need could use as a resource.

While much of the meeting focused on solutions, the group was also reminded of the problems faced by children and infants in homes affected by addiction.

County Board Supervisor Christine Howard said there are 17 known drug-affected babies in Waukesha County, which prompted her to invite Amy Baumann, vice president of programs for Safe Babies Healthy Families, to attend Wednesday’s meeting. The local organization works with families to make sure children have a safe and healthy living environment, but Baumann said the group is seeing more referrals for drug-affected babies than ever before.

“There are times where we will get a referral per week and I can tell you five years ago we probably had none on our caseload,” she said. “It is just becoming such a hardship for us just to service these families because they take so much more time than our traditional families.”

Each of the coalition’s three subgroups said they plan on meeting again on their own in the coming weeks and a meeting of the full body was scheduled for early November.

Email:



Heroin Task Force ramps up efforts

By Denise Seyfer - News Graphic Staff 
Sept. 18, 2014


OZAUKEE COUNTY — Outreach and education are continuing in the county’s ongoing assault against illegal drug use and the nature of addiction. Over the past eight months, community leaders and citizens have pressed on, meeting as the Ozaukee Heroin Task Force committees. The group, which is comprised of Starting Point of Ozaukee, local and county law enforcement, the Ozaukee County Public Health Department and other community leaders and concerned citizens, met as a whole on Tuesday, providing updates on committee discussions and outlining upcoming efforts.

Their task is no easy one, as leaders have stated consistently in the past.

“It is without question the single worst crime problem I’ve seen in Ozaukee County in my 34 years of law enforcement,” Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Lt. Rod Galbraith said in January as efforts to tackle the problem began.

Members of the community education committee detailed four goals, which centered around a marketing campaign aimed toward parents, public and private schools and students and the faith community to curtail drug addiction, especially to heroin.

The treatment committee, comprised of the Ozaukee County Counseling Center staff and other community leaders promoted hiring a new addiction specialist to work on maintaining drug sobriety through outpatient treatment services.

Cedarburg Police Chief Thomas Frank spoke for the law enforcement committee, which initiated greater usage of the Tip 411 service – an anonymous, interactive tip line accessed through an app or a text message to the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office using text keyword OZSO and send your message to 847411.

Law enforcement has put effort into having a more active presence on social media. Frank said officers would like to have license plate readers – equipment that can be mounted on the outside of police squads to document thousands of plates within an eight-hour shift to be used for data collection and tracking of individuals who might be engaged in illegal behavior.

According to Starting Point of Ozaukee Executive Director Shea Halula, heroin overdoses are reported to be most prevalent among those ages 18 to 26 years old. So the task force is urging parents to engage their children – a group who is sometimes seen as perpetuating a problem through defense mechanisms of denial or inadequate education on warning signals, information from the task force said.

Other efforts are also heightening the anti-drug efforts, including September as national recovery month and Red Ribbon Week, Oct. 19 through Oct. 26 in schools across the country. This year’s theme is “Your voice can make the right choice.” Homestead High School in Mequon will be the site of the next heroin panel on Oct. 6 at 7 p.m.

A common theme noted by local sheriffs, police officers and counselors is that those who latch onto heroin start drinking and using marijuana in their early teens.

“These are typically kids that take risks, eventually start using pills, LSD, Ecstasy and eventually start using opiate-based prescription medications,” Galbraith said. “Sooner or later they try heroin and once they do, they are hooked. At this point it becomes a downward spiral and is just a matter of time before they hit bottom.”

In information provided at the meeting, Jim Bohn, the coordinator of this year’s task force events, said the goal is to raise awareness of the increasing and dangerous use of heroin in Ozaukee County through a more upbeat and positive outreach program.

This issue touches many high school age students, he said, and he is hoping to rally the community around heroin and drug addiction, which will continue to get worse without community intervention at many levels.

A goal of the task force is to aid in informed decision-making, especially as county and municipal entities determine budgets so that they allocate adequate resources needed to battle this problem, not only from the law enforcement perspective, but also from an educational and treatment perspective.

Denise Seyfer can be reached at .


Battling the beast
Clean for a year, former heroin addict tells her story
PART 5 OF A SERIES
By Jessica McBride - Special to The Freeman
Sept. 13, 2014


Debbie Murphy talks about her daughter’s success in recovering from heroin addiction.   
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

MUSKEGO - Megan Murphy is a pretty, talkative 23-year-old from Muskego with long permed hair and a sobriety tattoo.

She counts those she knows who died from heroin or opiate overdoses. She comes up with 22 names. She met many in various rehab stints.

“Emily, Jay, David, Nick ...,” says Megan, whose arm is stamped with a long tattoo reading, “I will never falter. I will stand my ground. There is danger in starting a fire. You never know how many bridges you will burn.”

“Emily, she was absolutely beautiful. So good-looking. Her mom works with my best friend. She overdosed. Her mom found her in her room. Nick, he was sober two years then all of a sudden a friend said he overdosed. This girl Nicole, she had three little boys.”

Megan has been sober for a year.

“This is a success story,” says Debbie Murphy, of her daughter. 

“The addiction is so much more powerful than the fear of death. People are wrecked.” - District Attorney Brad Schimel

It’s that success story that Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel is hoping to replicate with a drug court that’s existed for about 2 1/2 years. The heroin addicts the county sees fit Megan’s profile. They are not the “back-alley addicts” that people used to imagine when they thought of heroin, he says.

Locking people up the traditional way wasn’t working because it was a “period of forced sobriety” that lowered people’s tolerance and they would sometimes die of overdoses once released as a result, he said. If they complete the program, they can avoid the ruinous nature of a felony. There are drug screens and support groups, regular visits before the judge. “We get into everything in their lives,” Schimel says.

“By the time people get here, they have exploded. It’s destroyed everything,” he says. “The addiction is so much more powerful than the fear of death. People are wrecked.”

The drug court doesn’t take people who are drug dealers or have violent records. The dealers who cause overdoses, though, are a completely different story. The DA has led the state in the number of reckless homicide prosecutions of heroin dealers under the Len Bias law. He says the number is more than 26; before heroin, the tactic was extremely rare. Now a prosecutor in Schimel’s office does only that.

He would like to see other measures implemented, such as making it mandatory for doctors to check a new prescription monitoring database that will alert them to a patient who is doctor shopping. Now, they have seven days to put prescriptions in the database, and he’d like a requirement that they go in sooner. The rest is educational.

“We need parents and physicians to be our partners in this,” said Schimel. “We will only win this if we reduce the supply.”

Winning this would mean fewer Megans with stories to tell about the horrors of heroin. And the supply refers to pills, not just heroin.

 

To the depths of addiction

Megan agreed to tell her story to also help educate the community about how heroin addiction works. In less than a decade, heroin and opioid pill use have skyrocketed in Waukesha County, alarming addiction experts and law enforcement officials.

Debbie Murphy pauses while talking about her experiences with her daughter, Megan,
as she battled heroin addiction.
 Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

Within human stories, other experts also say, lies a community lesson: Take pills seriously.

“Opioids should go in a lockbox,” Dr. Michael Miller, director of the Herrington Recovery Center at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc, says. Overflow pills should be turned in to law enforcement for disposal.

Megan attributes her initial draw toward pills to low self-esteem. In high school, she weighed 205 pounds and was teased, desperate to fit in, an artistically inclined student.

“She was self-medicating,” says her mother.

Megan concurs. “I was trying to fill that insecurity but then I would become empty again.”

Marijuana made her hungry, and she wanted to lose weight. Guys on the football team wouldn’t “glance at me” but did drugs. Pills made her insecurities vanish and seem insignificant. At first.

A friend told her pills were a hangover cure. Her father had a slipped disc and a legitimate prescription for Vicodin. At first, he didn’t notice some were missing. She hung out at a George Webb’s and a guy there gave her more. She met a Waukesha girl who was in a beauty school circle.

Megan Murphy talks about her experiences with addiction and recovery.   
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

“She said, ‘I can get Percocet, Oxy.’ The whole circle was full of pill addicts.”

This is how law enforcement officials say pill and heroin use works. It’s organized around user networks who are loosely connected, almost like a social network.

Megan went to beauty school but dropped out.  She worked at a local BP and figured out who the addicts were. At the worst of it, she was couch surfing, dating another addict, driving to Chicago malls to steal power tools and mixers for money (she was caught once and ended up with a charge), and driving to Milwaukee drug houses to get heroin. She wasn’t worried about being shot because the dealers would protect their customers.

“You feel protected,” she said. “They make you feel like family.”

How much pill use was in high school?

“A lot. I was snorting OxyContin on my desk after school one day. The teacher went to make copies. When she came back, she said, ‘You’re in a good mood.’”

A boyfriend got her to switch to heroin. One day, she told him she was “pill sick” because she was withdrawing from not having pills, and he suggested they drive to Milwaukee to get heroin instead.

“I didn’t care because it got me unsick,” she said.

 Megan Murphy talks about her battle with addiction and the people she knew who lost their battles.
 Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

Sometimes, they drove to Chicago because the heroin was cheaper, buying from dealers who would use five throwaway phones to stay ahead of law enforcement. At one drug house in Milwaukee, the dealer let them use in his bathroom. The house was raided, but police let them go with a stern lecture because they were after the dealers (after putting a gun to her head).

She went to Rogers’ treatment program multiple times.

Her senior year at Muskego High School, Megan graduated - barely. Her GPA had plummeted to 1.8. During the ceremony, she was “high as a kite,” her mother said.

Debbie Murphy discovered her daughter’s heroin addiction when she noticed jewelry was missing - including her husband’s wedding ring. Charge cards had unexplained expenses. She confronted Megan and called police.

“I wanted them to come to our house and scare her. I wasn’t going to lose my kid,” she says.

 

A toll on the family

Heroin addiction takes a toll on parents; Debbie gained 40 pounds. She almost lost her job because of time spent away from work. She ended up caring for her daughter’s baby in her 50s.

“It stresses the whole family,” she says. She and her husband (who works in IT) have four other children, including triplets.

What she didn’t realize was her daughter had a vial of heroin, which police found, and Megan ended up convicted of a felony. This was a few years before the drug court started.

“She started out with pills, recreational use, from her dad’s cabinet. Then she started robbing people. It broke my heart,” Debbie says.

However, the months that Megan spent in jail helped her break the addiction.

“She’s a different person. I have my daughter back,” Debbie Murphy said.

This was a mother with more knowledge than most. Debbie works in a pain management clinic.

“We had blinders on,” she admits. “Now there’s more awareness. I have my eyes open now.”

Megan explained the drug trade in detail. People go to Florida because crooked doctors will give prescriptions to anyone. The pharmaceutical companies made it harder to snort the pills, so people use a complex process that involves freezing and microwaving them.

She finally quit because “it takes everything. You have no money. No place to live. No family. They all hate you,” she said. “You don’t have friends - you just think you do.”

People were dying around her. The epiphany came when she was hanging out with a local heroin addict who lived in his parents’ garage.

“There were people all over. And I thought, ‘This is how life is going to be. I don’t want a life like that.’ I didn’t want people to say, ‘Oh, her? That was Megan. She had two kids. She was a nice person. She was addicted to heroin, and she died.’”

Waukesha County Drug Treatment Court
By the numbers:

111 - Applications reviewed by staffing team.
Accepted: 92 (83%), denied: 19 (17%)

15 - People currently on waiting list

75 - Total enrollment since start of program

12 - Successful graduations (34% of all discharges)

23 - Unsuccessfully discharged from program (20 for noncompliance, 1 reoffended, 1 voluntary, 1 death)

40 - Current caseload

Demographics:

* Sex: 50 men, 25 women

* Ages

18-25: 46 (61%)

26-32: 23 (31%)

33-40: 4 (5%)

41-50: 2 (3%)

* Heritage:

Caucasian: 69 (92%)

Hispanic: 2 (3%)

Other (biracial): 4 (5%)

(All figures from March 2012 inception through June 2014)

- Source: District Attorney Brad Schimel

 

The U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration encourages people to safely dispose of old or unused prescription medications. Needles, sharps or inhalers will not be accepted.

The National Take Back Initiative in our area is set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27, at the following locations around the county:

Delafield: Walgreens, 2901 Golf Road

Elm Grove: Walgreens, 15350 W. Bluemound Road

Pewaukee: Pewaukee Police Department, 235 Hickory St., Pewaukee

Oconomowoc: Oconomowoc Police Department, St. Paul Street collection point, 174 E. Wisconsin Ave.

Mukwonago: Walgreens, 212 N. Rochester St.

New Berlin: Unused and expired prescriptions and over-the-counter medications can be dropped in the lobby of the Police Department, 16300 W. National Ave. from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

Waukesha: Waukesha Police Station, 1901 Delafield St.

Source: U.S. DEA



PUBLIC ENEMY NO. 1
How a controversial cartel and its colorful leader bring heroin here
PART 4 OF A SERIES
By Jessica McBride - Special to The Freeman
Sept. 12, 2014


WAUKESHA — If you wrote a novel about Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s exploits, no one would believe it. They might believe the gunfight that killed an archbishop at a Mexican airport, but you’d probably lose them when he escaped prison in a laundry cart. And they’d never believe the beginning of his end started in Milwaukee.

Experts say the Mexican cartel Guzman co-leads controls 80 percent of Chicago’s drug market (including heroin) and brings 25 percent of all drugs into the U.S. As with any monopoly, this generated avid government attention. This isn’t just the story of a distant cartel, though; Waukesha gets almost all of its drugs from Milwaukee, and Milwaukee from Chicago, says Capt. Frank McElderry, who runs Waukesha County’s Metro Drug Unit. And those drugs — fueled by a much purer form of heroin than in the past — have led to a crisis here.

Whereas the poppy fields grown by Johnson & Johnson off Australia’s coast are used to make legal opioid pills, poppy fields in Mexico and Central America supply our area’s heroin and are targeted by the government’s “war on drugs.” The profit margin for both? Billions. The drugs are chemically similar and produce the same high.

Two Great Lakes partially penning in Wisconsin ensure it’s not going to be a major illegal drug hub for elsewhere but rather an “end-destination state,” says James Bohn, who runs the local DEA office. Heroin comes to Milwaukee from Mexico, sometimes brought directly from the border by illegal immigrants, but usually through Chicago, concurs Mark Manthy of the Wisconsin High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

“The border is porous,” says McElderry. “It comes over in truckloads.”

“Scarface” and speedboats are 1980s stereotypes. Cocaine is waning. Feds put pressure on the “the Caribbean theater,” pushing cartels to border routes, says Jack Riley, who runs the Chicago DEA region (Afghan heroin goes to Europe).

Chicago is a perfect drug distribution point for a Mexican cartel: A transportation center, it has the Midwest’s largest Mexican population, is near populous cities, and organized street gangs help deal. “This is their main hub,” Riley says. “They have a toxic business relationship with the street gangs here. In the last two years, heroin has become the drug of choice, hand-in-hand with an explosion in prescription drug use.”

The cartel that emerged from agricultural northwestern Mexico and cornered Chicago’s market starting in about 2006 — Sinaloa — is the world’s most powerful. Violence in Juarez? Them. Fast and Furious? The Los Angeles Times says 40 guns ended up with the cartel’s enforcer.

Guzman was declared a foreign kingpin and indicted in multiple federal courts — a “modern-day Pablo Escobar,” says Bohn. Others call him Zorro. After his prison escape, he went into hiding, but married a beauty queen and raked in billions. The Chicago Crime Commission labeled Guzman “public enemy number one.”

The last gangster called that? Al Capone.

“How the cartels work influences places like Wisconsin,” says Bohn.

Authorities got their big break when Guzman called Chicago twins Margarito and Pedro Flores to a Mexican mountaintop in 2005, just 10 years after OxyContin’s launch had spiked American pill demand (most heroin addicts start with opioid pills).

The twins’ immigrant father had cartel ties. The brothers, in their 20s, ran barbershops and restaurants as covers in Chicago’s Pilsen and Little Village areas, says the book “El Narco.” They agreed to become Chicago’s wholesale point; the cartel would funnel them millions in cocaine and heroin.

The cartel’s logistics coordinator was son of Sinaloa’s co-leader. Vicente Zambada-Niebla is a “narco junior,” impetuous, flashy, with bodyguards and military weapons. Think Sonny Corleone. Pretty boy Vicente, one Chicago magazine said. The link between Mexico and Chicago, who made sure drugs got there and cash got back, Zambada was critical, court records show.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called heroin a growing, urgent public health crisis this spring, saying the government was stepping up enforcement at all levels of the “supply chain” from opioid pills to heroin. The DEA has opened more than 4,500 heroin investigations the last three years; heroin seized along the Southwest border is up 320 percent.

A Milwaukee drug investigation led authorities to the “head of the snake.” U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic indicted a group of Milwaukee cocaine dealers. Authorities followed them to the Flores twins, who were also indicted without fanfare for cocaine dealing, the same year as that mountaintop meeting.

“They fled to Mexico, where they became much bigger traffickers,” says Bohn.



Making a deal — with the feds

Three years later, the twins resurfaced — to a Milwaukee agent. They wanted to deal. “Suffice it to say, they made a business decision and a personal safety decision,” Riley says cryptically.

Bohn’s uncomfortable talking about them. The case was transferred to Chicago with aspects ongoing.

“It was a collaborative effort,” he said. “Lots of people deserve credit.”

Riley says the twins exemplify the government’s strategy: striking at the “heart” of the organization. He describes them as the “ideal choke point targets” who could lead downward to Milwaukee street dealers causing violence and upward to cartel leadership. It all stemmed from a street deal in Chicago tracked to Milwaukee and that back to the twins, who had suburban Illinois stash houses.

The twins turning Sammy the Bull was a big deal because they were in contact with Zambada, even Guzman himself. “Over the last five years regarding Sinaloa, we’ve sent shock waves through them. This is the new face of organized crime,” says Riley.

What happened next sounds more like an episode of “Homeland,” though, than “The Godfather.”

Authorities needed the brothers to stay undercover to build the case. If they don’t operate as usual, the cartel might suspect. It’s alleged this is what federal authorities did — sort of a Fast and Furious operation with drugs.

Bohn says the Milwaukee office would never do this, and Flores/Zambada stuff is “above (his) pay grade.”

Riley, the guy above Bohn’s pay grade, says, “We would never purposely let drugs go. Not on my watch. No — that didn’t happen.”

Did the twins continue dealing drugs without DEA’s permission or knowledge? “Criminals are criminals,” Riley says. “This is a dirty business, where people get killed every day.”

But he says he doesn’t think they were doing so.





Controlled deliveries

Court records describe controlled deliveries. During one month in 2008, court documents say, authorities seized over $15 million and made a controlled delivery of $4 million from a Flores stash house to track it to Mexicali.

Zambada was observed counting drugs. Margarito Flores received 13 kilograms of heroin for $715,000. The DEA seized just 8 kilograms back, court records say. The heroin was 94 percent pure.

“How much can you get rid of in a month?” Guzman asked in one recorded conversation.

“Around 40,” Pedro Flores allegedly responded — 40 kilos of heroin.

In the trial of a twins’ Milwaukee- linked contact, the Chicago Reader said, a Milwaukee drug agent was “asked if the twins were important enough to the DEA that the agency would permit them to continue importing drugs to the U.S. during the initial phase of their cooperation, from April to November 2008.” According to the Reader, the agent replied, “They weren’t in our control. We couldn’t stop them.”

When the agent met the twins in Mexico, he said, according to the Reader: “(T)he conversations were a matter of the twins ... explaining essentially what their value could be to us and us explaining to them why it was important for them to turn themselves in.”

When asked if the twins kept sending drugs to the United States, the agent replied, “I suspected so,” the newspaper said.

“It has come out in the legal proceedings ... that the twins, in exchange for providing incriminating information and the wiretap recordings that were used to indict Zambada, were permitted to continue importing cocaine and heroin by the ton into Chicago and distributing the drugs throughout the country,” claimed Chicago magazine.



Busting Zambada

The feds busted Zambada in Mexico in 2009 as youths across Waukesha County were dying of a purer form of heroin his cartel introduced to the Midwest; the twins’ cooperation gave them a case. Zambada made noise — battling for classified documents, including those about Fast and Furious, the scandal in which agents allowed guns to reach criminals to trace them.

Zambada claimed cartel leaders, including Guzman, were working with the government through a cartel lawyer given immunity and claimed the government gave the cartel “carte blanche” to smuggle “tons of illicit drugs to Chicago” in exchange for information on rivals, court documents say.

“Factually infirm and legally unsupported,” slammed the government. But the government admitted the lawyer WAS an American informant and they’d tossed his indictment. Riley says Zambada’s charges were “obviously legal posturing. A judge in Chicago denied his motion.”

Presuming this is not a lie, why would the government want to cooperate with a cartel? Zambada argued it was overall drug strategy — “the end justifies the means” — to divide and conquer cartels. Bohn points out criminals often blame cops.

Then, Zambada was given a deal, announced a few months ago. He could get only 10 years in prison. He must cooperate and relinquish $1 billion, the plea shows.



Operation Lake Effect

Meanwhile, authorities here were back to disrupting lower-level dealers.

The latest target: An Oconomowoc-area network. A user screws up. Gets caught in a traffic stop or cops get a Crimestoppers tip. Now they will give up a dealer; the drug unit’s goal is to “interdict dealers,” McElderry says. Drug deals go down in Walmart, Walgreens, and Brookfield Square Mall parking lots.

It’s just people who know people who know people. The local “kingpin” is a Milwaukee man who moved to Oconomowoc. He’s jobless and homeless, McElderry says. At this level, “there’s no money in heroin.” One man on the supply chain got pills for cheap through BadgerCare and sold them for a profit.

The largest county heroin case was “Operation Lake Effect.” Court documents show two Pewaukee brothers got heroin from a Milwaukee man who got it from a guy who relocated to Chicago. They sometimes used a Greyhound bus. The network caused five overdose deaths.

DA Brad Schimel says Lake Effect was the “first big ring” here but usually dealers set up in Milwaukee, leaving Waukesha County full of “end users.” Milwaukee is “a lot more anonymous.”

Some Lake Effect defendants ended up with more prison time than Zambada might, but there’s a lot he knows, and Guzman might be coming to Chicago. A few months ago, after 14 years on the lam, U.S. agents arrested Guzman at a Mexican beach resort.

“It’s a very big arrest,” says Bohn. “The question is, what will take his place?” Riley says he can’t talk about Guzman because of the ongoing case but added generally that, “whenever you remove ... the CEO of a major corporation who’s been running it for 20 years, the organization begins to fragment, alliances switch, communication becomes undisciplined. There’s a lot of chaos that happens.”

Popular mythology holds that snakes regenerate. You can take Bill Gates out of Microsoft, Bohn muses, but Microsoft remains. As for the twins? Riley goes mum. Witness protection is a good bet.

Coming Saturday: One woman’s journey through drug court.

 

Fishing hats and CDs: How Big Pharma marketed a new drug
Analgesic qualities were focus, not possible addiction
PART 3 OF A SERIES
By Jessica McBride - Special to The Freeman
Sept. 11, 2014


Physicians were plied with plush toys, fishing hats, and CDs with songs like “Get in the Swing with OxyContin.”

They were flown to Sun Belt resorts for national pain management and speaker conferences, the tab picked up by Purdue Pharma, the Connecticut company that had just introduced a powerful new opioid pill on the market named OxyContin.

In the five years after the drug’s launch in 1995, Purdue held 40 conferences and paid for 5,000 physicians, pharmacists and nurses to go, according to a journal article by physician Art Van Zee. The message: Forget fears about prescribing opioids to a more general pain population. This isn’t heroin. This pill has a unique time release mechanism that means it’s not very addictive at all.

OxyContin sales grew from $48 million to $1.1 billion in those years.

Pharmaceutical companies - not just Purdue - spend billions each year on promotion (OxyContin is far from the only opioid on the market - there’s also Vicodin, methadone, and fentanyl, for starters.) But Purdue took marketing to new levels.

The problem is, it wasn’t all true.

“It was devious. It was ruthless. It was just a big lie,” says Peter Jackson, whose daughter, Emily, 18, died after ingesting OxyContin prescribed for an uncle who had passed away of cancer. He now runs a national advocacy group against prescription opioids.

“They were systematically lying to doctors for many years, coming up with bogus graphs and all kinds of things,” said Jackson. “The track record of sales for OxyContin follows directly from that; it just shot up.”

 

Working to understate addictive properties

By 2007, three of Purdue’s executives had pleaded guilty to misbranding the drug by understating its addictive properties. They were convicted of criminal misdemeanors and paid a massive fine. But the drug remained on the market.

Purdue is a family-owned Connecticut company, founded by psychiatrist brothers. Sent questions, including one asking about addiction risk (studies are mixed, but many experts consider the drug highly addictive for some patients), the company responded in writing:

“For more than a decade, Purdue has been working with policymakers and health experts to address the risks associated with prescription opioids.  We believe the pharmaceutical industry has the responsibility and unique ability to help evolve the analgesic market, which is why we’ve taken a leadership role in developing opioids with abuse-deterrent properties.”

People have used opium in a cruder sense throughout history; morphine, invented to help wounded soldiers, was named after Morpheus, Greek god of dreams, according to History Today.

German scientists working for Bayer, known for aspirin, created heroin (the word “heroisch” means “heroic” in German) from morphine in 1874, trademarking and selling it as a cough suppressant, according to the White House Agency for National Drug Control Policy. Doctors worldwide soon prescribed heroin.

According to History Today, heroin was Bayer’s first “commercial medicine.” By 1928, though, a regulatory era began as Congress banned heroin after murders in New York.

Illegal heroin spiked during the Vietnam War, as anyone who has seen the movie “American Gangster” knows.

Purdue’s spokesman provided research showing OxyContin is just 2.7 percent of opioid pill prescriptions. But OxyContin’s launch sent statistics soaring, coming on the heels of a decade-old national pain movement that slowly liberalized doctors’ prescribing habits.

Official agencies and groups now embraced the pain movement’s concept of “balance.” In 2001, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and 21 other organizations issued an unprecedented statement urging “balance” in opioid regulation - finding a way to regulate abuse without stopping legitimate use for pain. Numerous states passed Intractable Pain Acts to shield doctors from punishment who used controlled substances to treat patients in pain. Professional societies worked against what was called “opiophobia.” Studies showed regulatory bodies used outdated terms and were too restrictive, and medical boards started rewriting policies.

These actions gave Purdue’s marketing the legitimacy it needed to many doctors (although some researchers and associations were taking drug company grants).

Then, data started to come in, showing more abuse than expected. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that over 60 percent of drug overdose deaths now involve pharmaceutical drugs, mostly opioids. Heroin deaths doubled in nine years, according to the CDC.


Recently seized heroin. It is often packaged in small amounts for easier distribution at cheap prices. People addicted to opioid painkillers frequently turn to heroin because the drugs are chemically similar.  
Photos from Waukesha County Metro Drug Unit

Local stats

Medical examiner’s statistics for the last 11 years of Waukesha County overdose deaths show most of the 385 who died had ingested opioid pills. According to the medical examiner:

* Drug overdose deaths rose from 15 in 2003 to a high of 59 in 2012. Last year, there were 37. About 17 percent were suicides. Almost all of the rest were accidents, with a few undetermined.

* In almost 80 percent of drug overdose deaths since 2003, people had opioids in their bodies (heroin or prescription pills), often in combination with other prescription drugs or alcohol. In 21 percent, oxycodone was the opioid found (that’s the drug in OxyContin; however, Purdue Pharma points out that oxycodone, also developed by scientists long ago, is found in many prescription opioids).

* Heroin was found in 55 cases; the peak year was 2012, with 20 deaths. Morphine was found in 74 more cases. Sometimes, because heroin metabolizes so fast, medical examiners only detect morphine. However, sometimes people die from taking morphine. People also died after ingesting opioids like methadone and fentanyl.

* More victims were male. The average age was 37, dropping from a high of 51 in 2004.
 

There’s a reason those poppies put Dorothy to sleep as she headed to Oz. According to the CDC, overdoses occur because the drugs depress people’s breathing.

Purdue’s marketing efforts were critical, says Dr. Michael Miller, who runs the addiction recovery center at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc; now opioids were prescribed to a general pain population, a huge market - some 76 million Americans. Previously, opioids were restricted to surgical use and terminal cancer patients.

Opioids that aren’t heroin still are not controversial for “end-of-life” patients. But Andrew Kolodny, a leading opioid addiction expert, says that wasn’t a big enough market for a “blockbuster” drug - terminal patients won’t be on the drug long. Backs, knees - now those were fair game too. However, some doctors say the term “non-chronic cancer pain” is not easily defined; as anyone whose loved one has suffered from pain knows, it can be truly debilitating; and some cancer patients are in remission and aren’t “end-of-life” either.

 

Seeking balance

The question becomes where and how to find balance - how much risk can and should society tolerate to stop the pain of millions? Should risk be stopped with regulation and limiting access, merely with education (put pills in a lockbox) or a mixture?

The answer depends on which part of the elephant a person sees: If you’re a grieving parent whose child used heroin, you might fall one way; if you’re a doctor with suffering patients, another.

Jackson is frustrated that years after convictions and with public health costs of OxyContin well known (including its heroin link), more hasn’t changed (although in 2010, Purdue reconfigured the pills so they can’t easily be crushed and snorted. The company also stopped selling a higher dosage).

There is evidence the reformulation pushed some pill addicts to use heroin instead. James Bohn, who runs the local DEA office, says people also turned to other forms of oxycodone.

“I was at their sentencing hearing in Virginia in 2007 and we thought, ‘Oh here’s a victory, finally, they’re convicted.’ We thought that would change things, but if you look at the statistics, their sales kept going up, they didn’t take a setback at all,” says Jackson.

Many Americans want opioids for pain. Patients don’t just want their pain controlled, doctors say; they want it eliminated. Their expectations have changed.

“It’s a great drug,” insists UW-Madison pharmacology professor June Dahl of OxyContin. Dahl was one of a few researchers whose pain management advocacy helped relax doctors’ attitudes toward prescribing opioids. “It’s no different than morphine in any real sense,” she says.

David Cleary, who now runs the UW’s Pain & Policy Group, which advocates international and national medical use of opioids for serious pain relief, provided a study showing only 3.6 percent of opioid users try heroin. However, research says 80 percent of heroin users start with opioids; Kolodny thinks there is an even bigger prescription pill crisis.

“OxyContin is continually overprescribed by doctors for people with many types of moderate pain who should never have been given this drug in the first place,” says Jackson. “This widened use can be directly traced to the marketing campaign of Purdue Pharma.”

If Dahl could change one thing, it’s “Purdue’s marketing,” she says. She was one of their speakers; respected researchers she knew were hired by Purdue and were “doing the asking.” Now she feels “possibly used.”

Purdue had marketing down to a science. Drug companies identified physicians with many chronic pain patients and gave a lucrative bonus system to OxyContin sales representatives who reached them, Van Zee wrote, training sales reps to say the addiction risk was 1 percent (Kolodny says it’s about 25, but others say it ranges from below and above that and depends on the patient).

 

Parent questions FDA

Jackson believes enough attention isn’t given to the Food and Drug Administration, which had the power to stop the drug. The FDA’s small staff size for overseeing promotional materials compounded things, said Van Zee.

The FDA’s response has been to weigh the risks and benefits. Last year, in response to a petition from Kolodny’s group, the FDA ordered changes to extended-release prescription opioids’ labeling to “more effectively communicate the serious risks of misuse, abuse, neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS), addiction, overdose, and death.” But the FDA stopped short of other requests, saying chronic pain is also a public health crisis in America with societal costs.

The law already requires that such prescriptions can’t be refilled; a new one is required. There are also “strict record-keeping and reporting” rules reflecting the “high potential for abuse,” says the FDA. In Wisconsin, there is a new database that allows doctors to track whether patients are “doctor shopping.”

At a public hearing last year, the FDA heard from two groups: Those with lost loved ones who wanted the drugs restricted, and those concerned restrictions would block legitimate pain relief, including some prominent medical associations.

The marketing mattered. Ashley Wazana, a doctor writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reviewed 29 scholarly studies, which showed interactions between doctors and pharmaceutical companies started as early as medical school. Most physicians met with reps four times a month.

Interactions with pharmaceutical reps made doctors quicker to prescribe drugs. Although professional societies developed guidelines, many doctors were not aware of them.

“We need to figure out how to put the genie back in the bottle,” Miller says.

The question is how, and to what degree.

Coming Friday: The cartel connection.


UW-Madison researchers played role in increasing opioid use
Parent: Experts must fight use of opioids for non-cancer pain
PART 2 OF A SERIES
By Jessica McBride - Special to The Freeman
Sept. 10, 2014


Pharmacology professor June Dahl agrees to meet midway between the University of Wisconsin-Madison — where she’s worked since 1957 — and Waukesha County, which is in the throes of a heroin and opioid pill crisis.

We discuss her life’s work changing how pain is treated. Then, it’s time to cut to the chase: Is it fair to link her efforts (and those of a handful of other national pain researchers) to the heroin crisis?

The analytical Dahl — who, at 84, is among the oldest active Wisconsin professors — reflects, then says candidly: “It appears that the promotion of better pain management has led to more liberalization of the prescribing of opioids, which has led to an increase in the availability of the drugs, which has led to some people abusing them, and then, when they can’t get pills, to heroin as criminals promoted it.”

June Dahl

And there it is. Just a few researchers have done as much to promote pain management as Dahl and other UW researchers. But in a complicated irony, the pain researchers both caused pain and eliminated it.

Dahl and other researchers talk about “balance” — the point between regulation of legal opioids (like morphine, Vicodin, methadone, fentanyl and OxyContin) and medical access to them and where society should fall (no one argues heroin should be legal anymore, although it once was).

That pendulum has shifted several times throughout the last 100 years as society tussled with the allure of the poppy, which opioids (both heroin and pills) derive from, producing a similar high. Since 2000, that balance has moved dramatically to access as prescription opioids were prescribed increasingly to a general pain population in Waukesha and elsewhere. And that matters because heroin use also exploded in the past decade, and research shows that most heroin users start with prescription opioids, usually taking them from people with legal prescriptions.

Big Pharma helped relax doctors’ attitudes toward prescribing opioids with an unprecedented marketing campaign, but the UW and a few other researchers built the intellectual foundation first.

Before the late 1990s, people generally couldn’t get opioids from family doctors; they were for surgeries and terminal cancer care, says Dr. Michael Miller, addiction center director at Oconomowoc’s Rogers Memorial Hospital. He’s an intellectual who has served on many national and state boards. And to Miller, and other experts, it’s clear how this happened.


If you complained of knee, back or other chronic pain before the late 1990s, you left the doctor’s office with ibuprofen. For decades, doctors, especially those in primary care, feared opioids’ addictive nature. Now, prescriptions are easy to get, Miller says.

“There was a big push to market this to a much broader market — the chronic pain market,” says Miller.

And that was a very big market, he stresses — some 76 million Americans.



UW researchers had role

It was on the campus of Wisconsin’s flagship university that this effort grew.

How influential were the UW researchers in changing doctors’ prescribing patterns? “Very,” says Miller, emphatically. “The driving force.”

Was their influence national? He nods, then adds: “International.”

Miller believes David Joranson and Dahl were the most influential. He thinks they were “well-intentioned” but should “revisit” their theories.

Dr. Michael Miller

However, the UW researchers don’t hide their role in changing how pain is treated across the nation; they’re proud of it. After all, the relaxation in prescribing of legal opioids has also alleviated the pain of millions and their efforts to make treating pain a priority for society have become so accepted that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker just declared September Pain Awareness Month, saying pain costs $100 billion in lost productivity.

A UW site praises Dahl as “catalyst for the new pain standards in the USA.” A Joranson bio says he helped “develop consensus about the use of opioids in chronic pain.” The group considered pain relief “a human right,” says a glowing UW Alumni magazine feature.

Others see the darker side. As with yin or yang or the creation of any new technology, the increase in prescriptions was a double-edged sword; for all its potential, it’s widely recognized as fueling the rise in heroin use, a cheaper drug whose users almost always start with prescription opioids, which, after all, come from the same poppy plant.

“Their influence was enormous,” says Andrew Kolodny, a leading national opioid addiction expert, of the UW researchers. “They played a central role in ushering in this epidemic.”

In Greek mythology, stories capture the tragedy of unintended consequences. There’s Daedalus, brilliant inventor, whose benevolent attempt at genetic engineering caused negative consequences.

Dahl chafes at the well-intentioned label.

“It implies we were wrong,” she says.

Were they?

“No.”

Others strongly disagree.

Dahl says opioid and heroin deaths are a small percentage of the population, and the media largely ignore the broader crisis of undertreated pain (including in cancer patients). Prescription opioids killed over 16,000 Americans in overdoses one recent year, and heroin thousands fewer (alcohol kills some 88,000 a year).



But drug overdose deaths are now the leading form of U.S. injury death, and three of four involve opioid pain relievers, the government says. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called heroin an “urgent and growing public health crisis” this spring, saying heroin deaths are up 45 percent, and tying them to opioid pill abuse. Nationwide, opioid prescriptions rose tenfold in five years after OxyContin’s 1995 release (southern states have highest rates; we’re 31st).



Drug company funding

Peter Jackson, whose daughter Emily, 18, died after taking OxyContin, is incensed by the revelation in the media several years ago that the UW’s Pain & Policy Study Group — which Joranson founded — took several million dollars from drug companies — including Purdue Pharma, OxyContin’s maker — to help fund research arguing for less regulation in the past decade.

Joranson, now retired, who did not return requests for comment, founded the UW group in 1996, a year after Purdue introduced the powerful new pill that resulted 11 years later in criminal convictions against three executives for misrepresenting its addictive properties.

Dahl has never been part of the UW pain and policy group. She worked closely with it though and coauthored important research on the topic with Joranson. Dahl took drug company grants because there’s a “deficit” of money for pain research.

She won’t take them now but insists, “I was never told what to say.”

Joranson’s group, which hasn’t taken drug company money for four years and is run by a new leader, is doubling down on its mission.

They want global impact.

“Our advocacy for balance implies that the medical community must pay attention to deaths related to opioid use,” insists David Cleary, the group’s current director. “Patients and physicians alike need to have correct information about how to use these medicines properly. We believe strongly, however, that broad restrictions on access are not the most effective way to achieve that goal.”

He explains the group’s “role is to ensure access to controlled substances, where it is deemed medically appropriate. ... In many cases achieving balance has required the removal of regulatory restrictions that were barriers to opioids for pain relief.”

Cleary says the group’s budget was $9 million from 1999 through 2012, and $1.7 million of that came from unrestricted grants from pharmaceutical companies. The rest came largely from grants from foundations as well-known as the American Cancer Society and Princess Di Fund. One of the foundations, though, was the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, started by a Johnson & Johnson heir. A Johnson & Johnson subsidiary grows poppies for American prescription drugs in Tasmania.

Asked about that, Cleary says he is not aware of any links between that subsidiary and the foundation, which he calls the “largest philanthropy devoted to public health.” There is no direct taxpayer support of the UW Pain Group, he says.

Cleary, a cancer physician, has “seen up close the devastating consequences of uncontrolled pain during serious illness. When opioids are used as prescribed and appropriately monitored, they are indispensable to patients who need them.”

As to the heroin link, he adds: “It is clearly important for the whole community to contribute to ensure a balanced situation. This includes physicians, patients, pharmacists, regulators, politicians and pharmaceutical companies. A scale that has tilted too far in either direction is not balanced.”

The problem with the current balancing act is that people who weren’t prescribed take prescription opioids from people who were (and sometimes those people switch to the cheaper and even easier to obtain heroin), and the definition of “serious” is debated — today it might be someone’s knee or migraines, not just severe cancer pain.

Jackson wants the group to “take steps to end deaths and addiction and publicly support the growing tide against the use of opioids for chronic non-cancer pain.” Otherwise, he insists, “the university must close them down.

“Here we are years down the road, with all of the evidence of the fallout, and they are still holding onto their old mission,” he says, sounding fatigued.

“I want no diversion, and certainly not of this magnitude,” Dahl stresses. Diversion means pills used improperly. She says education is the answer because doctors “prescribe carelessly,” don’t reassess patients and give out too many pills (other experts agree).

Dahl was born in Hudson to a telephone operator mother and railroad father. She obtained a Ph.D. in chemistry, and followed her chemistry professor husband to Madison in the 1950s, eventually becoming a tenured pharmacology professor.



From cancer treatment to drug of abuse

The 1980s were pivotal in the pain management movement, which initially focused on terminal cancer patients, who sometimes couldn’t get opioids. A member of the state’s Controlled Substance Board, Dahl met Joranson, a staffer.

A turning point came when Congress rejected an attempt to legalize heroin to treat cancer patients in 1984. A journal article says up to 80,000 cancer patients were suffering and 26 countries, notably England, allowed medically administered heroin.

Dahl and Joranson opposed legalizing heroin (“a more controversial form of morphine,” she says) but agreed terminal cancer pain was undertreated. “When people get to the point of death from cancer, their pain is so severe that only opioids relieve it,” says Dahl.

Joranson was moved, recounted UW Alumni magazine, by travels overseas to “cancer hospitals where ... doctors walk past suffering patients, and those in the worst agony are placed in what’s called a ‘screaming room.’” Dahl saw patients in India with head and neck cancer, agony visible because of distorted heads. “There was no oral morphine in all of India,” she says.

New York doctor Russ Portenoy’s 1986 study on using opioids to treat noncancer patients was influential to Dahl and many others. Portenoy recently told national media he’s had a change of heart and was wrong about opioids’ addiction risk being extremely low.

Portenoy now focuses on serious pain patients and didn’t want to be quoted. “He’s sort of the guru of this,” Kolodny says.

His study of 38 patients was the “scientific launching pad,” wrote Barry Meier in the book “Painkiller.” In it, Portenoy concluded “opioid maintenance therapy” can be safe and humane.

Dahl called global and national experts to a Racine conference. The Wisconsin Cancer Pain Initiative was born; other states’ initiatives followed. The group distributed thousands of pamphlets on cancer pain.

Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc is the fourth largest behavioral health center in the country. It is where most Waukesha County addicts go for treatment.
Submitted photo

Eventually, the movement broadened. At an early 1990s meeting of state pain initiatives, people asked: Why stop there? Shouldn’t other pain sufferers be helped? More groups formed.

OxyContin was released in 1995, with a time release whose marketers claimed made it almost non-addictive; Kolodny thinks the addiction rate is around 25 percent. Joranson, who has a master’s degree in social work, started the pain group at UW the following year. Dahl, who coauthored research with Joranson, decided they “needed a stick.”

Dahl (with Robert Wood Johnson funding) began encouraging the Joint Commission, which accredits most American hospitals and doctors’ offices, to adopt new pain assessment standards.

Miller chaired a board that rejected them, concerned that patients’ expectations would become unrealistic. Two years later, they were in place anyway. If you’ve seen the smiley and frown faces, you’ve experienced them.

Dahl stressed they don’t mention opioids. Others think the standards were very important because they created a nationwide mandate that doctors prioritize pain treatment.

“Now screening for pain had to be done in every primary care setting,” says Kolodny. And once OxyContin came out, there was a new way to do it.

Meanwhile, Joranson’s group attacked regulations; the pain movement was systematically dismantling regulatory barriers to prescribing opioids. In one example, Joranson spurred the Federation of State Medical Boards to issue a policy that doctors could be sanctioned for undertreating pain, says Kolodny.

Medicare began linking funding to patient satisfaction surveys, giving incentive for doctors to prescribe painkillers.

If pain researchers’ work was kindling, though, Purdue’s billions were lighter fluid. “Guess who was speaking (at their conferences)?” Dahl asks. “Me.” She feels “possibly used.”

As she leaves, Dahl tosses out a D.H. Lawrence quote: “A little morphine in all the air. It would be wonderfully refreshing for everyone.”

Coming Thursday: A marketing campaign promises wonders of opioids


How a killer drug quickly became a community crisis 
PART 1 OF A SERIES
By Jessica McBride - Special to The Freeman
Sept. 9, 2014


 Photos of Tony Pyszczynski in his mother’s Muskego home.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

On heroin’s trail

The Freeman is taking an in-depth look at the epidemic of heroin use in Waukesha County with this series spanning several parts.

TODAY: A look at the scope, the numbers, and how heroin and prescription pain pills are connected.

Wednesday: University of Wisconsin researchers played a role in how opioids became so commonly prescribed in society.

Thursday: Prescription drug maker Purdue Pharma was part of a marketing campaign launched directly at doctors.

Friday: A Mexican cartel was involved in how heroin gets to Waukesha.

Saturday: Heroin addiction as seen through the eyes of a Muskego girl and a discussion of the county’s drug court.

WAUKESHA — A lot’s been written about “heroin in the suburbs.” Many reports are episodic: This year’s deaths are increasing, authorities have busted a big ring or another promising young person has died. It’s left pressing questions: How did heroin become so prevalent here in Waukesha County? And why? Drunken driving and domestic violence once monopolized community concern not that long ago. We’re educated. Affluent. We parent our children (well, most do). Heroin conjures up images of 1970s skid rows, not Pewaukee or Muskego. The crisis here happened fast — in less than a decade.

“It’s a different demographic than other drugs,” said District Attorney Brad Schimel. “It’s the Eagle Scout. The straight-A student. The star athlete. These aren’t the bad kids.”

The journey to find answers takes surprising turns, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to northwestern Mexico. It evokes Fast and Furious, unprecedented marketing by Big Pharma, and university researchers who helped lay the intellectual foundation by launching a national pain movement that changed society and may have unwittingly fueled an epidemic.



It often starts with pills

The mythological poison-breathing serpent Hydra had multiple heads. To properly understand this crisis and its evolution, consider it Hydra: same body, two heads — heroin and opioid pills, such as Vicodin, Percocet, the cheaper painkiller methadone, and the godfather of them all, OxyContin. They are chemically similar, derived from the same poppy plant, and produce the same high (heroin was once legally prescribed 100 years ago.) Opioid pills are the gateway drugs floating around our purses like Tylenol. It almost always starts there.

“There’s a pill problem in Waukesha County,” Capt. Frank McElderry, commander of the Metro Drug Unit, said. “It almost always starts with pills. There are more pills out here than heroin. No one starts with heroin. You can’t talk about heroin without talking about pills.”

Schimel concurs: “I don’t know anyone who started with heroin.”

Parents lock liquor cabinets or mark alcohol bottles but “no one is monitoring or counting the pills,” he added.

At least 80 percent of heroin users started with opioid pills first, national research says. While the government gives Mexican drug cartel leaders distributing heroin most-wanted status, almost at Osama bin Laden’s level, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary grows opium poppies used for chemically similar — and legal — prescription opioid pills. They’re grown in Tasmania, off the Australian coast. The website of Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Tasmanian Alkaloids boasts poppy fields as pretty as the one that put Dorothy to sleep in “The Wizard of Oz” (the company makes many household-name products: Tylenol, Visine, Listerine, and Splenda among them).

Two cohorts use heroin, said Dr. Frank Kolodny, a leading expert on opioids, which refers to drugs — legal prescription pills and illegal heroin — deriving from the poppy. There’s an aging cohort still addicted to heroin from the 1970s in urban areas out east, and, in the last 15 years, a bigger, growing cohort of young suburban and rural users throughout America. Like here.

Our growing use of prescription opioids is the underreported crisis and precursor, he said.

“They are essentially heroin pills.”


Kolodny said the number of heroin users who started with opioid pills would be even higher except it still includes aging men addicted in the ’70s. He thinks it’s 99 percent without them.



Legitimate pain relief

Despite their nexus to the heroin problem and their own addictive properties, prescription opioids clearly have a legitimate purpose also, as anyone who has suffered pain knows. This, though, creates a vexing dilemma for society — how to balance competing public health concerns of people’s pain and people’s addiction — and where the line should be drawn when it comes to access. It’s a pendulum that has swung back and forth several times in the past 100 years.

The widespread legal prescribing of opioids for the broader chronic pain population (estimated at 2 million Wisconsinites) — as opposed to terminal cancer patients — is a relatively new thing, dating only to just before 2000.

Now the notion of treating pain has broad support. Gov. Scott Walker recently declared September Pain Awareness Month in Wisconsin, saying, “Chronic pain is the leading cause of lost work days, and costs an estimated $100 billion in lost productivity every year and results in higher health care costs.” A cluster of Wisconsin pain groups for illnesses ranging from arthritis to dementia joined in the pain treatment advocacy.

Chronic pain these days is often treated with an opioid prescription. A recent news report said the Drug Enforcement Administration was tightening regulations on hydrocodone and moving it from a Schedule III to Schedule II drug in recognition of addiction risks and misuse (preventing refills, creating manufacturing quotas, and so on).


It wasn’t always so easy to get opioids for such legitimate but not life-ending pain in Waukesha or the country. Now it is. And that, experts unanimously agree, is the root of the heroin crisis here. People usually start with pills that were legally prescribed for someone else (a parent, grandparent).

A spokesman for OxyContin’s maker points to a Food and Drug Administration letter that calls chronic pain “a serious and growing public health problem” that “contributes greatly to national rates of morbidity, mortality, and disability; and is rising in prevalence.”

But there’s obviously a public health cost too from treating pain so broadly.



Killer on the rise

The epicenter for the epidemic locally is the Waukesha County Metro Drug Unit, where McElderry has mapped drug overdose deaths. They’re spread throughout the county. Medical examiner’s spreadsheets show opioids were found in almost 80 percent of drug overdose victims here since 2003 — either heroin or, more likely, pills (hydrocodone came up in 27 of the 385 deaths, heroin in at least 55, and oxycodone in 80). Most ingested multiple drugs.

Example: A 53-year-old Brookfield man died this year after ingesting morphine (an opioid), Venlafaxine (anxiety drug), Diazepam (anxiety and seizures), and Temazepam (insomnia).

But “counting bodies” — as the mother of one victim says — “is the least of it.” More people use heroin than die from it, average age 22.1 (the age for pill use is higher).

“There is no standard person,” said McElderry. “It might be the athlete with the professional family or the welfare family.”

Rumors abound — this high school football team uses pills; that school is “Heroin High” — but there’s no fixed “hotspot.”

How bad is it? Beds are full at one of the nation’s top four behavioral health centers, Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc.

“Alcohol used to be No. 1, but now alcohol and opioids are pretty much tied,” said Dr. Michael Miller, who runs the addiction center there. As with other experts, he talks about heroin and legal opioid pills as if they are almost indistinct. Outpacing alcohol is a tough thing to do in Wisconsin. “Alcohol used to be 5 to 1,” said Miller.



Crime lab cases, heroin offenses? Waukesha is near tops statewide. Deaths? Up since 2003, spiking in 2012 — opioid deaths are now higher than traffic fatalities. Prosecutions? The DA is getting national attention for prosecuting dealers in overdoses.

Most recently, a 17-year-old Oconomowoc High School junior was charged with reckless homicide using the Len Bias law for allegedly supplying the drug to 19-year-old Archie Badura (there have been over 26 such prosecutions here). A cousin who also used heroin remains in critical condition as of this writing.

Pill collections? Federal agents incinerated 50,000 pounds last time, third largest nationwide. More American teenagers now use prescription opioids than marijuana. State opioid treatment program attendance is up, hospitalizations are up, needle exchanges are up, using naloxone to stop overdoses is up.

“Heroin has been an extremely serious issue for six or seven years now,” Mark Manthy, acting director of the Wisconsin High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a seven-county effort, said. “Public attention is catching up to reality. It’s very alarming.”

James Bohn, who runs the local DEA office, says heroin toppled cocaine as the region’s top drug threat. Second? Prescription opioids.

“One fuels the other,” he said.

Schimel said the problem is “driving everything else, increases in burglaries, retail theft, organized retail theft, identify theft, robberies. It used to be rare to have an armed robbery in Waukesha. Now they’re routine.”

Although county drug overdose deaths dropped in 2013, drugs that can reverse opioid overdoses are more available. Addicts in drug court tell officials they’ve overdosed seven times. So many pills are floating around that sometimes undercover drug cops run out of money.

In Waukesha, “people take their kids to the doctor,” McElderry said. “We are an overprescribed society.”

We raised our kids on Adderall and Flintstones vitamins, and filled our cabinets with opioid pills for knees and backs prescribed by family docs, and then act surprised they don’t think pills are bad. During Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” era, messages were clear: Drugs that weren’t alcohol were bad.



‘Perfect storm’

Why would pill users switch to heroin? It’s half as expensive and easier to get. Doctors stop writing prescriptions; parents finally lock down the pill supply. Pill withdrawal is so horrible that driving to Milwaukee’s north side to stick a needle in your arm becomes the better option.

It makes cops’ jobs tougher when dealers are bottles prescribed to parents and grandparents legally (by dentists too). Jack Riley, who runs the DEA’s Chicago’s office, said they stopped the methamphetamine threat here by restricting precursor drugs. In this case, the precursor drugs are legal pills, often prescribed to people who really need them. You don’t find many pill dealers on street corners; bad docs also aren’t the biggest problem, although there are some.

“The market came to the people. There’s wealth here. It was the perfect storm,” said Sheriff’s Inspector Eric Severson, who ran Waukesha’s Metro Drug Unit until 2006.



A mother’s story

Linda Lenz lives in an affluent, cookie-cutter Muskego subdivision — grassy backyard with barking dog, son Tony Pyszczynski’s senior picture on the mantle.

Lenz talked to Tony about pot and cigarettes. She drew up a “contract” so he wouldn’t drink and drive. But the ground had shifted. Tony, a football player, first took pills at high school parties, like a kid in the ’80s might a glass of beer.

 Linda Lenz looks at a video showing her son in the hospital after a drug-induced incident.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

He studied Buddhism and Chinese and liked to watch “Antiques Roadshow.” He made her artwork, and it’s good.

He filled notebooks with agony.

“One bad decision can lead to this,” said Manthy.

He switched to heroin because he couldn’t afford pills. He was found shoeless in a Waukesha street. He went to Rogers. Tony started bodybuilding as if to muscle the monster out. In a last selfie, he doesn’t look much like that high school kid.

He died in a Milwaukee parking lot of a heroin overdose last year, just 23. His mother still has his last text; “I know. Love u too.” She was at Mayfair when an officer showed up with Tony’s phone.

Lenz is passionate and mobilized. Officials all know her. It’s hard to know whether Muskego has a bigger problem or just has Lenz to highlight it (Waukesha records the most overdose deaths, followed by Menomonee Falls). She videotapes survivors and runs a group, Stop Heroin Now.

 

 Linda Lenz watches a video documenting her son's battle with addiction.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

“There are 20 houses with addicts in the four-mile radius around my house, at least,” she says. “Every heroin addict I know started with pills. Every one of them.”

But why are there so many pills now? The answer might surprise you.

(See Part 2 of this series in Wednesday’s Freeman.)


How to defeat drug abuse?
Cross-system meeting program seeks solutions for county’s continuing heroin & opiate crisis
By Matt Masterson - Freeman Staff 
August 29, 2014



WAUKESHA — Dozens of officials from local law enforcement, high schools, health care and Waukesha County government came together Thursday with one purpose in mind: finding solutions to the county’s heroin and opiate crisis.

The meeting was the first in a series of discussions aimed at analyzing what role each agency and organization has in reducing the number of heroin- and opiate-related addictions and deaths in the county.

Attendees included County Executive Dan Vrakas, District Attorney Brad Schimel, Sheriff’s Department Inspector Eric Severson and Metropolitan Drug Enforcement Unit Commander Frank McElderry, as well as representatives from the Waukesha, Menomonee Falls and Muskego police departments, plus many others, who convened during the regularly-scheduled Health & Human Services Board meeting at the Human Services Center. According to a July report from the State Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse, Wisconsin saw a 350 percent increase in heroin samples submitted to the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory by law enforcement between 2006 and 2011.

“We are not winning,” Schimel said. “We are making some progress, but the problem is moving faster than us. The only way we are going to win this is if prevention becomes ... number 1. They can’t pop that first pill.”

He said law enforcement cannot arrest its way out of this crisis because even if addicts are locked up for two years, many will come out of prison and immediately begin using again.

Waukesha Police Lt. Joe Hendricks said through July, the city has possibly already topped its record for most opiate-related deaths in a single year. Hendricks stressed, however, that the cause of death in many cases is still pending the Medical Examiner’s final review.

Dr. Steven Kulick, a member of the HHS board and a physician for Emergency Medical Associates, said part of the problem began when the Joint Commission — a medical accreditation body — labeled pain as the human body’s “sixth vital sign.”

“They pushed very, very hard on the provider community to not let anyone go untreated for pain,” he said. “I think that led us into a place where we set patient expectations that they would receive very potent pain medications that in many cases, I would say, are simply not indicated.”
 
Kulick added that an individual physician writing a prescription for an opiate such as Vicodin or Oxycodone might not be aware of how often these drugs are getting diverted away from their intended user.

Increased education was urged by attendees, not only for the pharmacists prescribing the drugs, but also for teens and children in high schools, middle schools and even elementary schools.

“Children are getting into first-line drugs through medicine cabinets,” Waukesha County Public Health Manager Nancy Healy-Haney said. “The (early) experimentation has dropped from the age of 12 to 10. So, yes, it is important to do education in the middle schools, but it might be helpful to start in the fifth grade.”

Severson said parents must understand the importance of locking up their prescription opiates. He said Waukesha County sees more deaths each year from heroin and opiate overdoses than it does from accidental shootings, but the message has still not gotten across to the parents.

Representatives identified possible solutions such as privately funding a drug lockbox distribution or implementing student surveys in local schools to see just how prevalent the problem is.

Schimel said too many parents have a sense that their children or their schools could never have a drug problem — that it is always somewhere else. He suggested a blind study within local schools to show parents how close the issue hits to home, as well as a handbook for parents to help keep their kids away from drugs, or provide resources for help if they are already addicted.

The group plans to meet again next month and invite more guests, including pharmacists and members of the private sector.

“It is certainly my desire that this is not our first and last meeting — if it is then we have wasted all of our time,” HHS Board Chair Joe Vitale said. “There will not be a magic pill to this, but I do believe that if we all put our heads together and work diligently at this problem, that in fact, we can get a better handle on it.”

Email:


Heroin dealer sentenced to 3 years in prison
West Bend man, 19, sold drugs to undercover agent
By AMANDA VOSS - Daily News
August 19, 2014




On Monday, four days before Kyle Ryan’s 20th birthday, he was sentenced to three years in prison in Washington County Circuit Court for selling heroin.

Ryan of West Bend was charged with three counts of manufacturing or delivering heroin less than 3 grams, three counts of maintaining a drug trafficking place and possession of drug paraphernalia. During a plea hearing in June, he pleaded guilty to one count of manufacture or deliver heroin less than 3 grams. The remaining counts were dismissed, but read into the record during sentencing.

He appeared in custody before Circuit Judge James Pouros with attorney Jeffrey Jaeger. Ryan said he was guilty, ashamed and embarrassed before he was sentenced.

“I never thought at 19 or any age I would be involved with heroin,” he said.

He said he’s trying to become a productive member of society and this experience has been life-changing.

“Heroin leads to jail or a casket,” Ryan said.

Assistant District Attorney Mandy Schepper recommended Ryan serve three to four years in prison and five years of extended supervision while Jaeger recommended Ryan serve probation. If Ryan’s probation is revoked, he recommended prison time.

Schepper said Ryan sold heroin to an undercover agent April 30, May 7 and May 9.

Schepper said several items of drug paraphernalia, including a marijuana pipe, several tin foil squares, a digital scale, razor blades and a plastic straw with white residue on it, were found in the home he shares with his grandparents.

“There are three paths heroin users take,” Schepper said, adding a heroin user dies, becomes a thief or becomes a drug dealer — perpetuating the community’s heroin problem.

“We need to figure out what to do with Mr. Ryan,” Jaeger said. “I don’t believe this case rises to the level of immediate confinement in prison.”

He said Ryan started using oxycodone that was prescribed to him when he had his wisdom teeth pulled, then he started using heroin.

“Mr. Ryan followed path three as Ms. Schepper indicated. They were small deliveries,” Jaeger said.

Jaeger said Ryan told the presentence investigation writer going to jail saved his life and he will get treatment.

“This is a sad situation all around,” Pouros said. “The community is affected. The defendant was dealing drugs. He was potentially dealing death. Small deliveries kill. People taking small amounts die.”


3 men revived from heroin overdoses in 2 days
Crews administer Narcan; officer taken to hospital after stuck with used needle
By LINDA MCALPINE - Daily News
August 5, 2014



Law enforcement responded to at least three heroin overdoses in two days in Washington County and three lives were saved because of Narcan.

Overdoses occurred in a gas station bathroom, a Walmart parking lot, and another while the man was driving.

Germantown Fire Chief Gary Weiss told the Germantown Village Board on Monday night that his department trained the officers of the Germantown Police Department how to administer Narcan three weeks ago and, on Saturday, that training saved a life.

Narcan is a drug that can reverse an overdose.

Officers responded to the Speedway Gas Station on Riversbend Lane shortly after 5:30 p.m. Saturday after a man locked himself in the bathroom. After gaining entry into the bathroom, it was evident the man was suffering from a heroin overdose. An officer gave the man Narcan, according to a Germantown Police Department news release.

Weiss, who had been on the scene, said the man regained consciousness and was transported to a local hospital. Weiss said Saturday’s incident was the first time a Germantown Police officer administered Narcan while on duty.

Another Germantown officer involved in the incident was stuck by a used hypodermic needle the man had. The officer was admitted to the hospital.

The news release notes it is a common occurrence for police officers and emergency medical personnel to encounter needles and other sharp objects at incidents involving controlled substances. The officer’s gloves failed to protect his hands when he was stuck.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Department dealt with a heroin overdose Friday night, according to a news release.

At about 7:30 p.m. Friday, a 36-year-old Richfield man drove into a ditch on Highway 167 near the Richfield Truck Stop. The deputy who arrived discovered the man unconscious and noticed fresh injection marks on his arm and a heroin kit in the vehicle.
 
The man stopped breathing so the deputy pulled him from the vehicle and started CPR. When Richfield Rescue arrived, Narcan was administered, which revived the man. He was taken to the hospital, where he was medically cleared but he was arrested for fourth-offense OWI and possession of drug paraphernalia and booked into the Washington County Jail.

West Bend Police arrested a 27-year-old Milwaukee man Friday night after he allegedly overdosed on heroin in the West Bend Walmart parking lot.

According to a news release, the man was found unresponsive by his car in the parking lot about 10 p.m.

A citizen flagged down a police officer who was in the area and the officer administered Narcan.

The man regained consciousness and was taken to the hospital.

After he was medically cleared, the man was jailed for possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia and bail jumping.


‘THERE IS HOPE’
SALS home helps get addicts back on their feet
By Sarah Pryor - Freeman Staff  
August 1, 2014


Kevin Schaefer, John E. Arneson and Patrick Reilly discuss SALS Sober House
during a Thursday interview. 

Charles Auer/Freeman Staff


WAUKESHA — We see the headlines every day: “Man charged with heroin possession,” “Addiction on the rise.” John E. Arneson and the rest of the staff at Sober Alternative Living Services are attempting to change the end of the story.

“I opened this place with rose-colored glasses,” said Arneson, who has been the SALS executive director since 2004, when a friend opened his eyes to the lack of transitional housing for recovering addicts in Waukesha. At first Arneson opened his arms and wallet to any addict who wanted to stay at one of his two properties, but after almost going broke, he realized he needed more structure.
 
“Addiction is about isolation but recovery is about being open and honest.”

“We’ll take anyone who’s ready, willing and able to work on their sobriety — no one’s forced to be here — but they have to be clean, and they have to want to be here. It can’t be just mom and dad wanting them here,” Arneson said. Residents can come and go as they please, but they must submit to drug and alcohol testing and absolutely must remain clean and sober, he said. Fast forward to 2014, when SALS has grown to four men’s homes — two in Waukesha and another pair in Milwaukee. A women’s home is planned for Milwaukee in the near future.
 

Kevin Schaefer wears a “One Day At a Time” bracelet.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

Arneson and his staff have helped more than 1,000 men get back on their feet through giving them a place to stay for anywhere from a few months to a few years, helping them find employment and prevent relapses. That’s where professional recovery coaches like Kevin Schaefer come in.

“It’s just like a coach on the sidelines of a basketball court. The team needs a plan of attack,” Schaefer said. “Addiction is about isolation but recovery is about being open and honest.”

That’s what Justin, who asked that his last name not be used, has learned in his time at SALS. Justin used opiates for four years until his parents found drug paraphernalia in his room and suggested a rehabilitation facility in Oshkosh. After treatment. he did well for a while, but then his cravings started increasing. He struggled finding employment. He felt defeated.

“Treatment is only as good as the 30 days it is,” Schaefer said. “The real world is tough.”

Justin sought out SALS after hearing about it through the rehabilitation facility in Oshkosh.

“It’s better than living with my friends because there are others here with that same mindset of trying to remain sober,” said Justin, who recently got a job after his coach, Schaefer, physically took him to job interviews and encouraged him through any rejections.

Sober coach Kevin Schaefer and SALS Executive Director John E. Arneson at one of the
SALS Sober House locations.  

Charles Auer/Freeman Staff


Placement Director Patrick Reilly said in the old days, all SALS residents were alcoholics, but nowadays anyone younger than 30 that comes through the door is addicted to opiates.


“Heroin is easier to get than beer,” he said. “Here, we provide a safe environment, and it’s these guys that make it worth it.”

Schaefer said the hard work, tears, late-night phone calls and stress are all worthwhile when he sees a resident overcome his demons. And that’s the story people need to hear.

“Everyone’s talking about the epidemic, but the one thing we’re not talking about is hope,” Schaefer said. “There is hope.”

For more information, or to donate, visit www.salshouses.org.

Email:
 

VIEW >> 97th Assembly candidates forum on tobacco,
alcohol and drug abuse
Posted 08-01-2014



Sheriff candidates put spotlight on heroin crisis leading up to August primary
By Matt Masterson - Freeman Staff  
July 25, 2014


WAUKESHA — With just over three weeks remaining until the Republican primary to determine who will become the new Waukesha County sheriff, the two candidates are both focusing on the heroin crisis facing the area. Sheriff’s Department Inspector Eric Severson and former Town of Lisbon Police Chief Tom Alioto both want to cut the number of addicts and overdoses in the county. Both men will outline their platforms at today’s “One-on-One with Your Public Official” program, held from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. at the Waukesha County Business Alliance, 2717 N. Grandview Blvd., Suite 300.

“It is a serious epidemic and I want to deal with that in Waukesha County,” Alioto said. “I want to make that a focus of this election, a focus of what would be my administration. I want to focus every resource that we possibly have towards taking a dent out of this heroin epidemic.”

Alioto said that if elected, he would work toward partnering with medical professionals, including emergency room doctors and EMS workers, and training all Sheriff’s Department deputies in deploying Narcan to help counteract overdoses.

Severson said he would address his plan of attack during today’s forum. But according to his website, he plans on continuing participation with the Drug Enforcement Administration, HIDTA/US Marshals Fugitive and HIDTA heroin task forces. He also points to his 12 1/2 years of drug enforcement leadership, which he says he will use to “build stronger partnerships with other agencies and you, the stakeholders of Waukesha County.”

Recently, Alioto has released ads attacking the current manner of business in the Sheriff’s Department. He says that if he’s elected, officers who break the law will not be let off the hook by resigning, but will face prosecution if the crimes warrant it.

Alioto has specifically mentioned Sarah Massa, a former lieutenant with the Sheriff’s Department who resigned earlier this year after she was accused of stealing prescription drugs.

Severson said that while he is aware of the ads, he has not heard them himself and chose not to comment because of that.

“I am consciously tuning them out,” he said. “I don’t listen to the radio at work — I am working. I don’t pay attention to it.”

Alioto had previously been arrested and ticketed for shoplifting from a Waukesha Farm and Fleet in 1988.

Email:


‘It is more powerful than the fear of death’
Schimel says heroin addiction in county, state continues to grow
By Matt Masterson - Freeman Staff  
July 23, 2014




WAUKESHA — While Narcan use has helped to save the lives of heroin overdose victims across Waukesha County, District Attorney Brad Schimel said the battle against the powerful opiate is still being lost.

In a presentation to the County Board at its meeting Tuesday night, Schimel and Rebecca Luczaj, the coordinator for the Criminal Justice Collaborating Council, offered a host of statistics showing how despite strong efforts, heroin and opiate addiction is still spreading on a county, state and national level.

“In the state of Wisconsin and across America, and in Waukesha County too, the No. 1 cause of accidental death is no longer traffic crashes,” Schimel said. “It is no longer anything to do with alcohol, it is now an opiate overdose. That is the new cause of accidental death and it has been for several years.”
 
“We are not winning. We are moving forward, but we are driving a Model A and the problem just flew by us in a Ferrari.”

Schimel said that in 2011, deaths from overdoses overtook those from traffic accidents in the state. He added that the average age of someone who begins intravenous drug use is now equal to a high school senior.

“This addiction is different than anything we have ever dealt with before because it is more powerful than the fear of death,” Schimel said.

Narcan, an opioid antagonist which counteracts the effects of a heroin overdose, has reportedly saved thousands of lives in Wisconsin and its use is growing. In 2008, there were 173 reported deployments of Narcan in Wisconsin. By 2012 there were 787 deployments reported by users themselves and another 3,700 from emergency medical services.

However, according to Schimel, the addictions are still not going away.

“The big problem is, at the same time we have seen those Narcan saves increase, we have also seen the deaths continue to rise,” he said. “We are not winning. We are moving forward, but we are driving a Model A and the problem just flew by us in a Ferrari.”


One of the programs offered by the CJCC is a Drug Treatment Court, which follows a “deferred prosecution model,” according to Luczaj. Under this, offenders who plead guilty are allowed into the 12 month rehab ilitation program, which requires frequent, random drug and alcohol testing, substance abuse treatment, regular status hearings before the drug court judge and more. Schimel said the average person coming into the program has already been revived by Narcan seven times.

According to Luczaj, since the program’s creation in 2012, there have been 111 applications to the program, of which 92 have been accepted, and so far, there have been 12 successful graduations.

“Drug Treatment Court is a lot more like parenting at times than it is like criminal justice,” Schimel said. “The standard criminal justice methods weren’t working and this has given us some success and we are turning these folks to becoming productive members of the community again.”

Email:


Drug dealers avoiding Ozaukee County
Law enforcement still pursuing those who get drugs to residents

By Gary Achterberg - News Graphic Staff 
July 8, 2014



PORT WASHINGTON — Call it a cat-and-mouse game.

Drug dealers apparently have gotten the word to stay out of Ozaukee County. They apparently have realized drug laws are enforced aggressively – and judges don’t treat their cases lightly. Prosecutors have responded by finding different charges to file.

In one recent arrest – and the district attorney said last week similar cases are being investigated – a Milwaukee man was charged with two felony heroin-dealing charges, even though the drug deals allegedly occurred in Milwaukee County.

Antonio C. Green Sr., 33, was charged in late June with three counts of conspiracy to commit manufacture/delivery of heroin. The complaint was immediately sealed so the case wouldn’t turn up on an online court database. Circuit Judge Joseph Voiland issued an arrest warrant. Green, arrested July 1 in Milwaukee, made an initial court appearance Wednesday. He is being held in the Ozaukee County jail on a $25,000 cash bond.

Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol said law enforcement and prosecutors are responding to drug dealers with a new approach.

“We needed to develop a strategy to deal with the fact that drug dealers were not consummating their drug deals in Ozaukee County because they recognized there was a significant law enforcement presence,” Gerol said, adding that law enforcement has been starting to see dealers switch the meeting location to the other side of the county line.
 
The crimes addressed in the criminal complaint allegedly occurred in a parking lot of a store in the 5600 block of North Bayshore Drive in Glendale on June 17, June 18 and June 19. An undercover sheriff’s deputy, who was in Ozaukee County, arranged by text to meet Green for the first time to buy a gram of heroin for $160, the criminal complaint said.

The text also said that they could meet at that location but it had to be quick because “I gotta meet my man back in Grafton on his break for his share,” the deputy texted, according to the complaint.

The two met. Green got into the passenger seat of the deputy’s car and turned over 1.1 grams of heroin for $160 in pre-recorded buy money, the complaint said.

A second drug deal – also for a gram for $160 – allegedly occurred in the same parking lot the next day. Again, the deputy was in Ozaukee County when the transaction was arranged. The deputy also texted he “had to make it back to Grafton in time,” the complaint said.

The third deal – this time, three grams for $500 – allegedly occurred on June 19. In a text setting up that deal, the deputy mentioned wanting to pick up some more “to bring back to Grafton,” the complaint said.

“As a continuing effort to fight the heroin epidemic, the Ozaukee County Drug Task Force remains committed to bringing to justice any drug dealer that targets the citizens of Ozaukee County,” said Lt. Rod Galbraith, the sheriff’s department’s lead detective and supervisor of the drug task force, in a news release announcing Green’s arrest.

The district attorney said his office can assert jurisdiction if they can show that the drugs are intended for resale or distribution in Ozaukee County.

“The idea is to create fear in drug dealers over selling in Ozaukee County and profile their purchasers and hopefully deter them from selling to people from Ozaukee County,” Gerol said.

Each of the three charges carries a maximum penalty of 12 1/2 years in prison and a $25,000 fine, court records said.

Gary Achterberg can be reached at .

 

‘This is the work of the devil’
First responders, deputy DA share realities of heroin problem


By Katherine Michalets - Special to The Freeman
June 26, 2014

DELAFIELD –To illustrate how problematic the heroin addiction problem is in Waukesha County, Delafield Police Officer Dan Bloedow on Thursday described two brothers who bought heroin and shot up together in their home, resulting in one brother dying from an overdose while his mother and brother monitored him after he was found unconscious in the bathroom.

“But the monitoring was actually watching him die,” he said.

The heroin addiction awareness meeting was organized by Alderman Jeff Krickhahn and held in Delafield City Hall on Thursday. Krickhahn became emotional while he spoke of how a friend’s son died from a heroin overdose.

Krickhahn said heroin has increasingly become the party drug of choice for today’s youth because of the euphoric high it can provide and its availability. The presenters at Thursday’s meeting also shared how heroin addiction often begins after someone starts abusing opiate drugs like oxycodone. Those people may move on to heroin because they can no longer get the prescription drugs.

Bloedow said he has only responded to the single fatal heroin overdose, but he worries about the future.

“We are very fortunate that we haven’t had another, but I fear that another one is not far off,” he said.

Officer Landon Nyren, a member of the Major Investigations Unit with Bloedow, said officers have seen every type of person imaginable abusing heroin or other opiates. Another prescription drug that Nyren has seen abused is Fentanyl, which comes in both preparations to be taken orally and patches.

One fatality Nyren investigated came after a man complained to his Fentanyl supplier that the patch wasn’t working well, so the supplier told him to “suck on it.”

The man’s friends later found him dead with the patch still in his mouth.

“Not only does your friend die of an overdose, you find them,” he said.

Nyren said the majority of property crimes in the area are prompted by heroin or other opiate addictions.

According to data Bloedow read, in 2013 there were 227 heroin deaths in Wisconsin and between 2008 and 2013 there was a 201 percent increase in fatal heroin overdoses.


Problem is complex

The problem is not one that police arrests can solve, nor can prosecution fix, said Waukesha County Deputy District Attorney Susan Opper.

“This is the work of the devil,” she said. “There is no answer.”

Opper has been assigned only to prosecuting narcotic cases in Waukesha County, something that wasn’t needed a few years ago, but now narcotic-related homicides exceed traffic deaths in the county. She said heroin addicts eventually need a fix each day just so they don’t get sick. It’s a constant struggle to figure out how to pay for the drugs, where to get them and what mode of transportation can be taken to get them.

“I would not wish this on my worst enemy even for a day,” Opper said of a heroin addict’s lifestyle.

The issue is complex, she said, explaining that even if a judge orders treatment, a person can refuse to cooperate. Friends can also be enablers. The addiction can even begin at a young age, Opper said, because high school athletes may be prescribed a strong pain pill for an injury and when they are no longer able to get the prescription, they might turn to heroin.

“They think they are invincible,” she said.

The police officers, Opper and members of Lake Country Fire & Rescue also shared their frustration with the supplies provided for free through a needle exchange program, including burners, tourniquets, alcohol wipes and a drug called Narcan that counteracts a heroin overdose. Opper said she has heard of friends who have called each other to locate Narcan instead of calling 9-1-1.

Awareness is important, Nyren said, suggesting that when a doctor prescribes a strong pain pill, the patient could ask if something like aspirin might work as well.

Opper said awareness must also be increased in the medical community and work is being done locally with the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Lake Country Fire & Rescue Chief Jack Edwards suggested having an exit plan prepared for young people when they are exposed to heroin.

“Everyone thinks it’s the big city problem, but it’s not,” he said, adding almost all of the LCFR paramedics have heroin overdose experience.


For more info

■ For more information about heroin, go to www.doj.state.wi.us or call 608-266-1221. Other resources include 1-800-662-HELP (4357), www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov or www.theflyeffect.com. A pamphlet will also be available at the Delafield Public Library, 500 Genesee St.


A ‘full-court press’ against heroin
Counselors: Community must fight addiction on many fronts


By Josh Perttunen - Enterprise Staff
June 26, 2014

OCONOMOWOC — Staff at area schools will note that the names being associated with fatal drug overdoses are all too familiar. Sometimes, said counselor Scott Bakkum of Oconomowoc High School, it is a name that was announced over the loudspeakers at graduation only a year or so ago.

Social worker Deborah Fowler said she can’t link all of those fatalities to heroin, but she has seen more fatal overdoses of former students hit the news pages in the last five years than in all of her previous 10 years combined.

The sobering topic of student heroin use — and other student addictions — marks the penultimate installment in the Enterprise’s five-part series that examines the roles and responsibilities of today’s school counselor.

A month ago, the series began by exploring the increasing mental health needs of students. Two weeks ago, a system of more intense career guidance and planning was examined. In the week that followed, the Enterprise delved into counselors’ impact on curriculum. The series will conclude next week with a snapshot on how counselors rely upon measurable data to gauge the impact of their lessons.


‘The stakes are so much higher’

In partnership with Rosecrance, a group with substance abuse rehab facilities and which has an office in Pewaukee, OHS runs Substance Abuse Services that meet once a week for an eight-week period. These are for those who are recovering from marijuana, other drugs and alcohol — or those who are concerned about friends and family.

Though heroin use among students is a relatively new trend, which Bakkum said really started to become evident three years ago, the recovery group this year was primarily composed of those who are recovering from heroin use.

Self-reporting hasn’t occurred as much as it may for other substances, which Bakkum speculated may be due to the stigma of heroin use. With students coming back from treatment and participating in the school’s recovery groups, however, a dialogue is beginning.

“Students who are going through this are realizing that there are more kids like them than they know,” Bakkum said.

What staff members have been able to learn from the students themselves, Rosecrance and from law enforcement is that heroin is cheap, easy to get and more potent than it’s ever been. It could affect any student, regardless of academic standing or socioeconomics.

“I don’t think kids realize the potency,” Bakkum said. “They are teenagers and adolescents; a lot of it is their (curiosity.) Some of them have been on drugs and are no longer getting the high they want, so they want to try something different.” Though the progression isn’t the same for every student who tries and becomes addicted to heroin, there are those who make the leap up from prescription pills.

“Their belief is that, well, if it’s a prescription pill ... that a doctor prescribed it, it must be safe,” Bakkum said. “But, they’re not using it how it was prescribed.”

Pills are expensive, Fowler said, and economics are sometimes the driving force for the deadly switch to heroin.

In addition to the potency, Bakkum said there are those who believe that the spread of Narcan may manufacture a false sense of security, with students believing that they might be brought back from an overdose simply by having Narcan administered.

“It’s sort of one of those things where I think kids are pushing the boundaries much more so, and they don’t realize the stakes are so much higher with some of the drugs, heroin in particular,” he said. “It’s one time and the student could die. That’s a very different risk than the drugs in the past.”


‘Full-court press’

One of the things that needs to happen is a more aggressive effort on the part of the entire community, Bakkum said, which includes law enforcement, schools, peers, the business community and parents.

A more active parenting style could make a big impact, Bakkum said. Gone are the days where the landline is in the living room and conversations about risky behaviors may be overheard and thwarted by parents.

Students now hatch plans to engage in risky behaviors on the devices they carry in their pockets. Parents need to remember that the students have no expectation of privacy and that they can expect to see what is being said via text.

“Parents should know that it doesn’t start with heroin,” said Lisa Dawes, the director of student services and special education. “It starts with something else.

“When you talk about that full-court press, where all people have to be driving as hard in order to make change, that change has to start with things that people find a little more tolerant, but not necessarily legal, like alcohol. To be thinking about that ... I don’t think anybody sees their child moving on from having drinks at a family party or graduation party to moving onto a heavy-duty drug like heroin, but I think that’s what’s taken everybody by surprise — where it starts and where it ends up.”

Parents need to monitor that activity and texting, Fowler echoed, even with students placing tremendous pressure on them not to do so.

“Parents should respond to the changes that they notice,” she said. “That could be changes to friendship groups, eating and sleeping habits, changes in academic performance at school, truancy, or changes to hygiene.”


Community seems receptive

The community is showing some responsiveness in its ability to face these tough truths, Bakkum said. A “Stairway to Heroin” event at the Oconomowoc Arts Center in April was the most attended assembly in recent memory, with 575 parents and students in attendance. Ninety-one percent of those in attendance reported that they found the information useful and an unprecedented 100 percent reported that they felt more knowledgeable about the risks and behaviors.

A second event is planned for next fall, with possible firsthand input from a student who is recovering, Bakkum said.

Email:

 

Banding together
Milwaukee County organizations, agencies bring awareness to heroin epidemic


By DAVE FIDLIN - Special to The Post
June 20, 2014


MILWAUKEE
The statistics do not lie.

With heroin use and the number fatal overdoses rising dramatically the past five years, few people would argue sweeping efforts need to be made to curb the epidemic.

While attention has turned toward elected officials and law enforcement to enact and uphold laws that address the issue, local leaders have asserted no one profession or organization can be handed the task of putting an end to heroin use in the Milwaukee area.

Efforts to stem the tide should not be done in a vacuum, advocates trumpeted at the regional symposium, "Heroin: Not on Our Watch Protecting Our Communities," that was held June 4 at Marquette University.

The daylong event, which included representatives from Milwaukee and four neighboring counties, included speakers from a number of nonprofit organizations and public agencies that shared a similar mission.

Throughout Milwaukee County, members of disparate groups have agreed to band together and fight the heroin epidemic that is sweeping the entire Milwaukee metropolitan area including some of the most affluent communities.

The Milwaukee-based AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin has nine branches throughout the state. As its name implies, the organization focuses primarily on creating awareness around HIV and AIDS.

More recently, however, the ARCW has rallied around other causes, including the rise in heroin use by youths.

"No one group is the solution to this," said Dennis Radloff, drug prevention specialist with the ARCW’s Milwaukee branch. "It takes all of us together."

As is the case with most organizations, Radloff readily admits funding is one of the largest obstacles as the ARCW aims to carry out its mission. Challenges aside, he said the organization is committed to offering a range of treatment and prevention services.

One way the ARCW has been involved with the heroin crisis has been the distribution of so-called heroin antidote kits that contain Narcan, a drug that is intended to reverse the effects of heroin.

Since word has spread about the rise of heroin use, a variety of coalitions has sprouted up throughout the region to advocate toward greater collaboration within and across county lines.

In Milwaukee County, an organization known as the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition has been working in tandem with the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute to bring awareness to the issue.

"The law enforcement are important. Organizations working toward treatments and cures are good. Community organizations are good," said Kari Lerch, a prevention services manager with the coalition. "But none of these groups can do this alone. Our community coalitions are a great way to bring everyone together."

While grass-roots efforts and nonprofit organizations have been viewed as an important mechanism toward bringing awareness to the epidemic, state-run agencies hold equal weight.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services Bureau of Prevention, Treatment and Recovery has an office in Milwaukee. The agency has been designated as the state’s official opioid treatment authority.

Tanya Hiser, a specialist with the agency, said a variety of medication-assisted treatments is available to heroin addicts. The bureau works as a liaison to help bring the treatments to people who need them.

As advocates scramble to get the word out about heroin’s rise, a variety of efforts is being taken to gain awareness. One such method has been a multimedia campaign known as the Fly Effect.

Playing off the lyrics in the age-old nursery rhyme, "I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly," the campaign basically states one hit of heroin is one hit too many.

Like the nursery rhyme, which portrayed the old woman and her ongoing efforts to build on her previous experiences, heroin use can start small and quickly grow out of control.

"Even the biggest spirals have the smallest start," said Christina McNichol, an agent with the Wisconsin Department of Justice. "In the case of heroin, what are users going to do to get their next hit?"

Southeastern Wisconsin has been especially hit hard with a more than double amount of heroin overdoses having been recorded from 2009 to 2013. In 2009, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Washington and Waukesha counties notched 45 overdoses. In 2013, the five-county region encountered 98 overdoses.

Heartbreak of heroin again a topic of discussion


By LINDA MCALPINE - Daily News
June 19, 2014

 Pat Franklin of the town of Jackson, who lost two sons to drug overdoses, wipes a tear after watching a testimonial video Wednesday at Badger Middle School in West Bend.
John Ehlke/Daily News

WEST BEND - Steve Melstrand started his road to heroin addiction at 13 by smoking marijuana.

Melstrand, 25, of West Bend, who has been in recovery from his heroin addiction for the past four years, told the story of the hell he and his family went through during a program for the parents of fourth-through ninth-graders hosted by the West Bend School District at Badger Middle School titled “Learn the Risks.”

“By the time I was in high school, I started experimenting with other drugs. They were easy to get. I tried cocaine, ecstasy, acid and mushrooms,” he said. “It wasn’t long before I tried pills like oxycodone and Percocet.”

The next step in his journey was to try heroin.

“I started using heroin in my junior year in high school. One of my biggest regrets is that I let it take over and I gave up the things I had a passion for, like wrestling,” Melstrand said.

He was so hooked on heroin that even the overdose death of a close friend didn’t cause Melstrand to try to stop his addiction.

“It was surreal. It hit me hard but I felt I was invincible,” Melstrand said of his friend’s death by heroin.

It took a near-death experience of his own at the hands of heroin to make Melstrand seek help.

“My parents got me to talking to a psychiatrist and that got me to reevaluate and change the priorities in my life,” Melstrand said, adding that his newfound Christian faith has helped him turn his life around. He is now married with a young son and is a partner in his father’s small business.

Melstrand’s stepmother, Emily Melstrand, said as a parent, she felt she was naive about drug use, especially heroin. “I guess I just didn’t want to believe it,” she said, noting that the family had been active together.

West Bend Police Capt. Tim Dehring said even though heroin and prescription drug abuse are problems in the community, he said he has a strong belief they can be beaten.

“We need to defeat denial. These problems are here,” he said. “We also need to defeat the stigma, so that those who have these problems can talk about them and get the help they need.”

West Bend School District Superintendent Ted Neitzke gave the audience some solid advice to take home.

“Have a code,” he said. “Develop a code or phase that your child can use when calling you if they find themselves in a situation where there is pressure to make a bad choice.”

Neitzke encouraged parents to be parents, to be engaged with their middle schoolers.

“We as parents are involved with our children when they are in elementary school, but then we tend to step back when they turn,” he said. “That’s when we need to be more involved. Know who your children’s friends are. Get to know their parents. Have your house be the one that the kids want to come to. Be that safe place for them.”

Neitzke said the School District, along with the West Bend Police Department and Elevate, a community resource center in Jackson, plans to host other community conversations about issues facing Washington County.



The disturbing new face of heroin addiction


By Dave Fidlin - News Graphic Correspondent
June 10, 2014

MILWAUKEE — The numbers vary slightly, but every statistic tells a similar story: Heroin use is on the rise – regionally and nationally.

Southeastern Wisconsin has been especially hit hard with a more than double amount of heroin overdoses from 2009 to 2013. In 2009, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Washington and Waukesha counties notched 45 overdoses. In 2013, the five-county region encountered 98 overdoses.

With an unfortunate common bond, civic leaders and organizers gathered Wednesday at Marquette University for a symposium, “Heroin: Not On Our Watch – Protecting our Communities.”
 

Source: Ozaukee County Public Health Department

The rise of heroin use among youth has become a well-publicized epidemic this year. Wednesday’s daylong event was designed to put the spotlight on possible solutions.

While a number of possible remedies were discussed – including stiffer laws and changing regulations on prescription medications – time and again, speakers sounded a desire to collaborate with one another, across county lines.

Paul Decker, Waukesha County Board chairman, did not mince words as he discussed the epidemic throughout Waukesha and its surrounding communities. Decker said Waukesha County’s burgeoning population is, in part, made of people who have wanted to distance themselves from urban challenges.

“Denial is one of our biggest challenges,” Decker said. “But education is the key thing. We’ve got to collaborate. We’ve got to work together.”

Other counties abutting Milwaukee County – including Ozaukee and Washington counties – are also facing the issue head-on. Like Waukesha County, organizers in the other two counties have held meetings that have drawn larger-than-expected crowds.

Kirsten Johnson, director of the Ozaukee County Health Department, said a locally-oriented heroin summit was expected to draw no more than 200 people when it was held in January. More than 600 people showed up.

In the immediate aftermath of the summit, Johnson said the health department is meeting regularly with other groups, including the sheriff’s office and the county’s two primarily health care providers, Aurora and Columbia St. Mary’s.

“We have partners from every walk of life in our community,” Johnson said. “You name it, and everyone’s at the table. We’re really talking to one another.”

Local leaders also touted preventative measures. Ronna Corliss, a drug prevention coordinator with Washington County, said there has been a growing interest toward enhancing parent-student dialogue about the epidemic.

Corliss pointed to a recent series of meetings in West Bend that were well attended.

“We have to talk about how we can work beyond the borders of our counties,” Washington County Manager Joshua Schoemann said.

Early in the symposium, the hundreds of attendees heard from drug experts from outside southeastern Wisconsin, including state Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, who gained national attention when he pursued legislation to curb the rise in heroin use.

For Nygren, the fight against heroin was personal. His daughter, Cassie, has been struggling with addiction to the drug. Nygren touched on his daughter’s radical transformation – from being a high-achieving student to one who was frequently truant.

“We never had the opportunity to see her graduate because the straight-A student dropped out,” Nygren said. “You think of heroin as something that is happening in dark alleys, but my beautiful baby girl was using it.”

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee Common Council President Michael Murphy are among the local leaders who helped bring the symposium to fruition with philanthropic support by the Zilber Family Foundation.

As the seven-hour symposium wrapped, Murphy recounted some of the startling statistics aired throughout the day. But he expressed optimism as well.

“I believe, going forward, the information we gathered will serve as a foundation to making a difference,” Murphy said. “There is a sense of urgency. We’re all reaching out to the same audience.”

 

Federal views diverge on proper use of painkillers


Associated Press
June 10, 2014

WASHINGTON — How do you have a conversation about prescription drugs that provide critical pain relief to millions of Americans yet also cause more fatal overdoses than heroin and cocaine combined?

The answer is: It depends.

Different parts of the federal government describe the problem — and potential solutions — of abuse with Vicodin, OxyContin and other opioid drugs in different terms.

The White House has called opioid abuse an "epidemic" and a "growing national crisis" that causes more than 16,500 deaths per year. Meanwhile, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a top-ranking Drug Enforcement Administration official have called on doctors to dramatically scale back their use of prescription opioids.

In this May 30, 2014 file photo, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg answers questions during an interview at The Associated Press in Washington. While Hamburg acknowledged that opioids are overprescribed, she again emphasized the importance of keeping the drugs accessible to Americans with chronic pain _ a group estimated at about 100 million, or about 40 percent of all U.S. adults

But while Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg acknowledged that opioids are overprescribed in an interview with The Associated Press, she again emphasized the importance of keeping the drugs accessible to Americans with chronic pain — a group she cites as roughly 100 million, or about 40 percent of U.S. adults.

"I think we have an important balancing act of trying to assure that safe and effective drugs are available for patients who have real pain and need medical care," Hamburg said.

The agency's approach has won kudos from physicians who use opioids to treat pain, including the American Pain Society, a group that receives funding from the largest pain drugmakers, including Pfizer Inc. and Teva Pharmaceuticals.

But it also exposes a rift in the government's messaging about the appropriate role of opioids, which are among the most frequently prescribed drugs in the U.S. CDC officials have called for more limited prescribing, citing figures that show a four-fold increase in opioid sales between 1999 and 2010, during which opioid overdose deaths more than tripled.

"These are dangerous medications and they should be reserved for situations like severe cancer pain where they can provide extremely important and essential palliation," CDC Director Tom Frieden said. "In many other situations, the risks far outweigh the benefits."

It's a view shared by anti-addiction advocates like Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, a group that wants the FDA to severely restrict pharmaceutical marketing of opioids.

"Over the past decade, there have been more than 125,000 painkiller overdose deaths because drug companies were permitted to falsely advertise these drugs as safe and effective for long-term use," said the group's president, Andrew Kolodny.

Experts agree that most overdoses occur in people abusing opioids at unsafe doses, often by grinding up tablets for snorting or injecting. But groups like PROP say that addiction often begins when doctors prescribe the drugs for common aches and pains. Opioids include both legal and illegal narcotics, such as heroin, morphine, codeine, methadone and oxycodone among others.

The appropriate medical role for opioids has been the subject of vigorous debate for over 20 years.

For most of the last century, doctors reserved opioids for acute pain following surgery or injury, or for severe, long-term pain due to deadly diseases like cancer. Using the drugs for more common ailments was considered too risky because they are highly addictive.

But in the 1990s, a new generation of specialists argued that opioids, when used carefully, could safely treat common forms of chronic pain, including back pain and arthritis. That message was amplified by pharmaceutical marketing for new, long-acting drugs like OxyContin, which the FDA approved in 1995.

Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, would later plead guilty and pay $634.5 million in fines for misleading doctors about the risks of addiction and abuse with OxyContin. But opioid prescriptions continued to rise unabated.

It's a trend closely monitored by the Drug Enforcement Administration, where officials say an oversupply of painkillers is fueling the black market for both prescription opioids and heroin.

DEA Deputy Assistant Administrator Joe Rannazzisi says it is "outrageous" that the U.S. consumes 99 percent of the world's hydrocodone — the most prescribed medicine in the country.

"A controlled substance shouldn't be the most widely prescribed medication in the United States," he said in an interview. "If we believe we're the only country that knows how to treat pain that's a pretty arrogant attitude."

To be sure, any successful effort to curb drug abuse must involve a wide range of players, including state lawmakers, medical boards, pharmacy chains and medical educators.

In her interview with the AP, Dr. Hamburg emphasized this multifaceted approach while highlighting two recent steps by the FDA to reduce harm from opioids.

In September, the FDA narrowed the prescribing label on long-acting opioids like OxyContin to specify that they should only be used for "pain severe enough to require daily, around-the-clock" therapy that cannot be managed with other approaches. Previously, the label simply stated the drugs were for "moderate to severe pain."

In October, the FDA recommended reclassifying hydrocodone-containing combination pills like Vicodin to limit how doctors can prescribe them.

But both of those actions came after outside pressure. The labeling change was in response to a petition from the physician group PROP, which sought much stricter labeling than what the FDA ultimately put in place. The change in classification for hydrocodone pills came after nearly a decade of prodding by the DEA, which argued that the drugs had been misclassified in the first place.

DEA's Rannazzisi says the difference in tone between various agencies reflects their unique missions. As he sees it, the FDA's primarily role is to review drugs and make sure they are marketed appropriately. But the DEA's mission to investigate drug diversion brings his staff much closer to the ongoing epidemic of abuse and addiction.

"Maybe sometimes people need to get out from behind their desks and actually go and look at what's going on," Rannazzisi said. "Because in the end this is a national tragedy that's not being addressed."

Some say addiction drug underused

WASHINGTON  — The government's top drug abuse experts are struggling to find ways to expand use of a medicine that is considered the best therapy for treating heroin and painkiller addiction.

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan on Wednesday pressed officials from the White House, the National Institute of Drug Abuse and other agencies to increase access to buprenorphine, a medication which helps control drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It remains underused.

First approved in 2002 — under a law crafted by Levin, a Democrat, and Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch — buprenorphine was hailed as a major advance over methadone, the decades-old standard for addiction treatment. Among other advantages, buprenorphine has a lower risk of overdose and milder side effects. It can be prescribed as a take-home medication in the privacy of a doctor's office, helping patients avoid the stigma of going to a methadone clinic.

But even amid a national epidemic of drug abuse and addiction, access to buprenorphine remains limited by federal restrictions, inconsistent insurance coverage and a lack of acceptance by physicians.

“As long as we have too few doctors certified to prescribe bupe, we will be missing a major weapon in the fight against the ravages of addiction,” Levin told the forum, which also included patients and non-government medical experts.

Only 4 percent of the 625,000 U.S doctors who are eligible to prescribe buprenorphine have received certification to use the drug, which comes as a pill or a film that dissolves under the tongue. Certification requires an eight hour training course in addiction medicine.

An estimated 2.5 million Americans are addicted to prescription painkillers or heroin, known collectively as opioids. Less than half are receiving medical treatment.

“It's somewhat paradoxical that physicians will use opioids to create a problem, but there seems to be reluctance to help address the problem,” said Dr. Westley Clark of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Clark and other experts noted that there is still a stigma attached to treating opioid addiction and many physicians are uninterested in learning how to use drugs like buprenorphine.


Communities rally to battle heroin outbreak amongst teens and young adults


By REBECCA KONYA
May 2014



During his first stint with the Ozaukee County Anti-Drug Task Force in the 1990s, Lt. Rod Galbraith of the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Department remembers only one resident who used heroin. "We didn’t see it as a problem," he says. "We were more worried about crack cocaine migrating north."

By the time Galbraith returned to the task force in 2009, though, heroin use had exploded in Ozaukee County.

Since 2009, nine people in Ozaukee County have died from heroin overdoses. The number is much higher in the more heavily populated Waukesha County, where 21 people overdosed in 2012.

"It’s devastating," says Galbraith.

Increased heroin use in metropolitan Milwaukee suburbs reflects a disturbing trend statewide. In 2012, heroin-related deaths doubled in Wisconsin to nearly 200. By comparison, the state averaged 29 such deaths each year from 2000 to 2007.

Before former student Luke Pulsifer died of a heroin overdose last June, Brookfield East High School teacher Chris Guthrie wasn’t aware heroin was a problem in the community. "I was shocked," he says. Today, Guthrie is actively involved with the Elmbrook Heroin Drug Awareness Task Force, an effort spearheaded by Elmbrook School District officials and Pulsifer’s parents, to raise awareness and provide resources to combat the growing heroin problem.

On Jan. 22, the task force held a summit on the local heroin problem, drawing more than 600 people. A similar forum held in Cedarburg on Jan. 29 by the Ozaukee County Anti-Drug Task Force also attracted a standing-room-only crowd. "I’ve never seen the community this engaged," says Galbraith. "It’s very telling."

Dr. Michael Miller, medical director of the Herrington Recovery Center at Rogers Memorial Hospital-Oconomowoc, says prescription drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin are the gateway to heroin. "Because they’re prescribed by a doctor, kids think they can’t be harmful," he says.

Once hooked on prescription opiates, addicts often switch to heroin, which delivers the same high at a cheaper cost. But the potency of heroin can vary widely, making it all too easy to overdose. "It’s like playing Russian roulette each time you use," says Guthrie.

Combating the suburban heroin epidemic requires a change in culture, says Galbraith. With heroin hitting those in their 20s the hardest, Galbraith says it’s important to talk to kids early on, before they’re exposed to it. "We need to educate parents of young children now," he says.

Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Legislature unanimously adopted the Heroin and Opiate Prevention and Education legislative package, also called HOPE. Comprised of four bills, the HOPE package helps reduce the diversion of opiate-based prescription medications, removes barriers that make people witnessing an overdose reluctant to call emergency medical services, and ensures naloxone (a drug used to counter the effects of an opioid overdose) is widely available.

"My hope is that we can prevent at least one family from suffering through the effects of heroin and prescription addiction," says Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), whose daughter struggles with heroin addiction.

Though heroin is considered highly addictive, Miller says rehabilitation is possible. "Unlike other drug addictions, there are medicines available to assist with treatment," he says.

If loved ones show signs of addiction like sudden personality changes, secrecy, dishonesty or increased sleepiness, Miller advocates taking action immediately.

"It’s better to speak up and encourage people to get help than leave it alone and hope for the best," he says.

Unfortunately, Miller says, opiate addiction has become a true epidemic. "People can’t take comfort that it’s not in their community. It’s prevalent everywhere."

Losing the Battle

By age 25, Tyler Herzog had been in and out of rehab and jail for years. The Menomonee Falls native started abusing prescription pills when he was a teen. Once an honor roll student at Menomonee Falls High School, Herzog had graduated to heroin by his senior year.

"It can only take once to get hooked, and once that happens it’s a tough cycle to break," says Herzog’s mom, Julie Berg.

But in 2011, Berg says her son seemed to be overcoming his eight-year addiction. He had been clean for nine months, had a job and had just moved into an apartment.

Then after a fight with his girlfriend, Herzog turned to heroin one last time. He fatally overdosed in February 2012.

Berg says she did everything she could to help her son. He entered 12 different rehab programs throughout his battle with addiction.

"Tyler was in a lot of different treatments," she says. "I never stopped looking for something that could work."

During his recovery at a halfway house in Waukesha, Tyler was asked to write a letter as part of his treatment.

"In the letter, he said that he hoped if he would die that his death would give some of the lost hope to change," Berg says.

That letter has given Berg the strength to share her experience as a mother searching for answers to the downward spiral of her son’s addiction. She now participates in The Fly Effect campaign, a heroin awareness campaign launched by the state’s Department of Justice.

"Heroin is beyond what any of us could ever imagine," she says.
 

Helpful Resources

Addiction Resource Council (ARC): http://www.addictionresourcecouncilwaukeshawi.org

Elmbrook Parent Network: http://www.elmbrookschools.org/community/parent-network/index.aspx

 

Offers list of resources in southeastern Wisconsin

Rogers Memorial Hospital: www.rogershospital.org

Wisconsin Department of Justice: www.theflyeffect.com

 

Statewide campaign to raise awareness of heroin’s destructive power

Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

The SAMHSA National Helpline is free, confidential and available 24/7/365

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment Services Locator

www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov

 

Find treatment facilities, support groups and community-based organizations in your area

Wisconsin Department of Health Services

www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/areaadmin/HSDListing.asp

Listing of Wisconsin community programs, as well as social and human services agencies

Statistics

•The average age of first use among recent initiates is 22 years old.

•The number of heroin-related deaths in Wisconsin jumped by nearly 50 percent in 2012 to 199, according to a survey of county coroners. From 2000 to 2007, Wisconsin averaged 29 such deaths each year.

•Since 1995, the number of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 who have tried heroin has increased by more than 300 percent, according to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World.

•Nearly twice as many drug deaths occurred in Waukesha County in 2012 as traffic fatalities.

•The number of countywide heroin deaths more than tripled from six in 2011 to 21 in 2012 year, according to the Waukesha County Medical Examiner’s Office.

•According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, more than 75 percent of people who try heroin once will use the drug again.

 

 
 

Milwaukee events  |  Waukesha events  |  Washington Co. events Ozaukee Co. events
Milwaukee news  |  Waukesha Co. news
Washington Co. News   |  Waukesha Freeman  | 
West Bend Daily News
 
| Ozaukee Co. News Graphic | Oconomowoc Enterprise