WEST BEND — Each agency has its role in addressing methamphetamine, fentanyl, cocaine and other drugs that persist and arguably grow in Washington County, some preventative and others more reactionary. With nonprofits like Elevate working on prevention, law enforcement ideally has fewer incidents as a result.
Washington County Sheriff Martin Schulteis said drug-related crime is a recurring problem on both the patrol and jail end.
“We’ve been trying to give our officers in jail and on the road a few more tools in their toolbox to be able to deal with individuals, specifically now with mental health,” Schulteis said.
Sending officers to crisis intervention training is one approach to provide the educational foundation, along with having a mental health counselor.
Elevate’s diversion program coordinator Andrew Freeman said officers can direct mental health cases to a specific crisis intervention center. Mental health is an important piece of the puzzle and looking at just the substance abuse is an incomplete approach, he said.
“Mental health can be a huge trigger for their substance abuse, whether it be anxiety and depression, which are the two most common, or bipolar and PTSD,” Freeman said. “We want people to get help for these things to ensure a good sense of wellbeing, that their sobriety continues and chance of recidivism decreases.”
Elevate’s Associate Director Julie Wolf said treatment and diversion is what Elevate offers as a partial solution to the drug epidemic. Along with drug court, the goal is to reduce the number of people ending up in jail who would do better in treatment. And if they can be identified early, they may avoid run-ins with the law altogether.
“It’s hard in the jail, because as much as you want to solve the problem, it’s more trying to deal with it temporarily,” Schulteis said. Once an individual reaches jail, the conversation goes from prevention to reaction; Schulteis said law enforcement has their hands tied to some extent. They cannot wipe the slate clean, but they can work to better address the issues, like through drug court, so a person can be sent to treatment to hopefully prevent future delinquent behavior. Wolf said people are examined closely for any mental health challenges and are referred to specific agencies for their needs. This could save money if less people end up in jail on the taxpayer dollar, and it would make the county safer. Freeman said treating the underlying issue behind the criminal behavior could have a dramatic effect on the increasing drug crisis.
Some of these approaches have worked; there were fewer people booked in Washington County last year than in 2017, and the availability and abuse of certain drugs are lowered. Heroin overdoses are down, Schulteis said, but fentanyl is up, along with meth.
“That drug scares me because it’s a stimulant — heroin and opioids are bad, don’t get me wrong, but it’s more of a depressant,” he said. “With the stimulants, people are paranoid and fighting and that’s the next trend I’m seeing that I’m not looking forward to at all for medical staff, cops, EMS and just the people who are around.”
How to get help or help someone else:
Elevate in Jackson works address the root causes of high-risk behaviors through prevention, intervention and residential programs that focus on drug and alcohol issues, mental health and delinquency. To learn about available treatment programs or to get involved in the fight against addiction, go to www.elevateyou.org or call 262-677-2216.