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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.”


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
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.

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


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.


‘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.”


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 or call 608-266-1221. Other resources include 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or 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.



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

By DAVE 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 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

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

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):

Elmbrook Parent Network:


Offers list of resources in southeastern Wisconsin

Rogers Memorial Hospital:

Wisconsin Department of Justice:


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


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

Wisconsin Department of Health Services

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


•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.



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