— 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
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
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
Alioto had previously been arrested and ticketed for
shoplifting from a Waukesha Farm and Fleet in 1988.
‘It is more powerful than the fear of death’
Schimel says heroin addiction in county, state continues to grow
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
“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,”
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
“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
Drug dealers avoiding Ozaukee County
enforcement still pursuing those who get drugs to residents
Achterberg - News Graphic Staff
July 8, 2014
PORT WASHINGTON — Call it a
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
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 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
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
Gary Achterberg can be reached at
‘This is the
work of the devil’
First responders, deputy DA share realities of heroin problem
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
“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
“Not only does your friend die of an overdose, you find them,” he
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
“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
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
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.theflyeffect.com. A pamphlet will also be available at the
Delafield Public Library, 500 Genesee St.
press’ against heroin
Counselors: Community must fight addiction on many fronts
Perttunen - Enterprise Staff
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.
June 26, 2014
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
‘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
“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
“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
“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.”
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
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.
Milwaukee County organizations, agencies bring awareness to heroin
FIDLIN - Special to The Post
June 20, 2014
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
Efforts to stem the tide should not be done in a vacuum,
advocates trumpeted at the regional symposium, "Heroin: Not on Our
Protecting Our Communities," that was held June 4 at Marquette
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
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
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.
of heroin again a topic of discussion
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
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,”
He was so hooked on heroin that even the overdose death of a
close friend didn’t cause Melstrand to try to stop his
“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
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.
disturbing new face of heroin addiction
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
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.”
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
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
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.
“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
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
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
Federal views diverge on proper use of
June 10, 2014
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
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.
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
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.
"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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
|Some say addiction drug
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
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
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.
devastating," says Galbraith.
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.
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."
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
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.
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.
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
better to speak up and encourage people to get help than leave it
alone and hope for the best," he says.
Miller says, opiate addiction has become a true epidemic. "People
can’t take comfort that it’s not in their community. It’s
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
can only take once to get hooked, and once that happens it’s a
tough cycle to break," says Herzog’s mom, Julie Berg.
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.
a fight with his girlfriend, Herzog turned to heroin one last
time. He fatally overdosed in February 2012.
she did everything she could to help her son. He entered 12
different rehab programs throughout his battle with addiction.
was in a lot of different treatments," she says. "I
never stopped looking for something that could work."
recovery at a halfway house in Waukesha, Tyler was asked to
write a letter as part of his treatment.
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.
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
is beyond what any of us could ever imagine," she says.
average age of first use among recent initiates is 22 years old.
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
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.
twice as many drug deaths occurred in Waukesha County in 2012 as
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.
to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, more
than 75 percent of people who try heroin once will use the drug