Community responds to heroin crisis
Public meeting set for March 9
By Angie Landsverk
Efforts are underway in Waupaca to address the community issues surrounding heroin.
“Every community is struggling with the issues that we’re facing here in the Waupaca area. It’s not just Waupaca. It’s all over,” said Detective Sgt. Brian Hoelzel, of the Waupaca Police Department.
Hoelzel is among those who attended a meeting here last month about heroin.
Also in attendance were physicians, citizens, private business owners, service club members, Foundations For Living, other law enforcement officers, as well as representatives from Waupaca County’s district attorney office, Waupaca School District, probation and parole and the Waupaca County Department of Health and Human Services
Jesse Heffernan, of Helios Addiction Recovery Services in Neenah, facilitated that meeting and will be back in Waupaca this month for a second meeting.
The meeting will be held from 5-8 p.m. Wednesday, March 9, in Room 42 of the lower level of the Waupaca County Courthouse.
“Whoever is interested in being educated about the issue and wants to be involved is welcome to attend the meeting,” Hoelzel said. “The public’s invited. It’s their community.”
Heffernan, a recovering addict himself, is a Certified Recovery Coach.
He has 15 years in long-term recovery from substance abuse.
The Waupaca Community Health Action Team (CHAT) is providing the funding for Heffernan to lead the meetings, educate the community and help build a recovery program that includes recovery coaches.
ThedaCare’s CHAT brings together community members who study local health issues and talk about solutions.
Addressing alcohol and drug abuse is among the priorities Waupaca’s CHAT identified.
Heffernan is teaching community members about the 5 Pillar approach to drug addiction, which includes prevention, treatment, harm reduction, law enforcement and recovery.
Hoelzel said people first need to understand what heroin is and why people are turning to it.
“Heroin is an opioid. Pharmaceutical drugs are opioids,” he said. “From the people we talked with who are heroin abusers, they were also pain medication abusers. Some people we spoke with were on pain medication for legitimate reasons. They were unable to stop.”
In the past, Hoelzel does not believe people were educated about how they could get addicted to opioids.
“Doctors always prescribed them, so people thought they were OK, safe,” he said.
When a person addicted to a prescribed medication runs out of the medication and has no alternatives, some try heroin, Hoelzel said.
“Out of all the people we arrested or spoke with, not one said they wanted to be a heroin addict,” he said.
Prior to Wisconsin’s implementation of its Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, some people addicted to prescribed pain medications went to different clinics throughout the state to get prescriptions for the drugs.
There was no way of tracking that, Hoelzel said.
The state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring became fully operational on June 1, 2013.
“Around that time is when we saw heroin coming into our area,” Hoelzel said.
This statewide program collects information about monitored prescription drugs which are dispensed to patients in Wisconsin.
It then discloses the information to those legally authorized to obtain the information.
The primary purpose of the program is to improve patient care and safety and also reduce the abuse and diversion of prescription drugs in the state.
“The people we’re dealing with,” Hoelzel said, “are the ones who abused prescription pain medication.”
He said there needs to be education about how bad heroin is.
In October 2014, people from throughout the county attended a heroin summit in Manawa.
“We talked about heroin being a problem and seeing it in communities,” Hoelzel said. “What we didn’t deal with is how we’re going to help people who are addicted, how to help.”
That is the issue is now beginning to be addressed.
“The meetings are about how do we help people who are currently addicted to abusing opioids. In talking with people who have been arrested and overdosed, there is a small window for getting them the help they need,” Hoelzel said. “They want that assistance, but there’s no place for them to go right now.”
He said many of the people addicted to the drug do not have jobs or health insurance.
They walk out of jail, and there is nothing to help them, Hoelzel said.
There are a few recovery programs outside of this immediate area, but they have waiting lists, he said.
Hoelzel described the circumstances related to some of the heroin overdoses local law enforcement officers are seeing.
“What happens is their system builds up a tolerance to heroin. They may go from one bindle of heroin, which is 1/10 of a gram, and then go up to using 1 gram a day,” he said. “We’re seeing overdoses when they may get arrested and go away from using heroin. They come out, and if they were using 1 gram a day, they go back to using that same amount. That is one way of getting an overdose.”
Hoelzel said the purity of heroin also causes some overdoses. The purity is related to what is added to, or cut into, the heroin.
“Local police are seeing only a percentage of overdoses,” he said.
With Narcan available over the counter, some heroin users are administering it to themselves, he said.
Narcan, also known as Naloxone, is a medication used to counter the effects of an opioid overdose.
“What we’re trying to do now is to build a recovery system,” Hoezel said.
The system will include recovery coaches, who police will contact when they deal with someone addicted to an opioid.
The coach will meet with the individual to determine what help is needed.
While it will take time to set up a program, Hoelzel said support for addicts is needed immediately.
“This just isn’t affecting the people who are using. It’s also affecting friends and family,” he said.
Another result of the addiction is people are committing crimes to feed their addiction, stealing from family members or breaking into homes and businesses, he said.
Hoelzel encourages those concerned about the issue to get involved and attend the March 9 meeting.
“It’s everybody in the community and professions that has to be involved in the problem that we have and try do something for our community,” he said.