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Drug crisis deepening

Attorney general visits Waupaca

By Robert Cloud

Methamphetamine is replacing heroin as the No. 1 drug problem in Wisconsin.

Meth is also making its way into Waupaca County.

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel visited with area law enforcement and municipal officials Monday, Feb. 20, at the Waupaca County Courthouse.

He held his 19th county listening session since his election, seeking input on local crime and social problems.

Schimel said meth has been spreading from the northern counties into the rest of the state.

“Heroin has been rampant for the last two to four years,” according to Waupaca County Sheriff Brad Hardel. “In the last few months, meth has started to take over.”

Schimel noted that the drug cartels in Mexico and Central America are shifting from heroin to meth.

“Only about 5 percent of the methamphetamine in Wisconsin is made in local labs,” Schimel said. “Meth is more profitable than heroin.”

Schimel said meth costs less to produce because it only requires chemicals and a laboratory, while heroin requires farmland to grow poppies.

Schimel said meth distributors are entering markets with free samples.

“With methamphetamine, people are becoming addicted after the first time,” Schimel said.

Hardel said local law enforcement is struggling to keep up with all the drug-related cases.

“We’re opening new cases weekly,” Hardel said, adding that Waupaca County has two full-time officers focused on drug enforcement, in addition to deputies making arrests during traffic stops.

Drug cases may take months to investigate since drug dealers have become more sophisticated.

Schimel held up a cellphone and said that this technology has replaced the traditional drug house. He noted that dealers use their cellphones to contact buyers and arrange meetings in parking lots. They discard the cellphones after a short period of time to avoid being traced.

Hardel also pointed to the increase in thefts, burglaries and robberies as addicts, who often do not have jobs, turn to crime to pay for their drugs.

Selling drugs can also be lucrative.

Hardel said a drug dealer can drive to Milwaukee and purchase $800 worth of heroin, then sell it locally for as much as $4,000 to $6,000.

Several of the police chiefs spoke about the expense of keeping up with technology at a time when public sector budgets are shrinking.

The software and devices used to open and read cellphones must be updated every year as new devices come on the market. This can cost more than $20,000 a year.

“What we face right now is more than a public safety issue, it’s a full-blown public health crisis,” Schimel said. “We can’t arrest our way out of the problem.”

Chuck Price, director of the Waupaca County Department of Health and Human Services, said drugs not only impact users, they also impact the users’ families.

“How do we help the next generation?” Price asked. “How do we help mitigate some of the trauma?”

Price noted that the children can be traumatized by both the experiences of living with drug addicts and the experience of losing their families.

He said there are underlying mental health issues that need to be addressed, but those who need the most help seldom have the financial resources to pay for long-term treatment.

Hardel said the county jail has become a detox facility because it is often difficult to find a place for those arrested for drug crimes.

“It’s a huge struggle and challenge for us, seeing so many in our jail who need mental health treatment,” Hardel said.

Hardel said the county jail now has 24-hour nursing coverage, in large part due to the inmates’ mental health issues.

Schimel said Waupaca County’s decision to start a drug treatment court is a step in the right direction.

Instead of incarceration, a person who goes through drug treatment court is closely monitored, has multiple meetings with probation agents and counselors every week and is randomly tested for drug use on a regular basis.

As the Waukesha County district attorney, Schimel introduced a drug treatment court there in 2012.

He found that drug treatment court cost about $2,700 per person for 12 months.

“We can’t keep someone in jail for more than a month for that price,” Schimel said.

Schimel said drug treatment courts are not only less expensive, but are more effective in reducing recidivism.

Although drug courts are relatively new in Wisconsin, Oregon has used them for more than 20 years.

Research found that 75 percent of the graduates of Oregon’s drug courts did not re-offend, while only 30 percent of those sentenced to prison re-offended after being released from prison.

Hardel said if drug court has a 50 percent success rate for the 12 or so people charged each year, then “that’s six people we don’t have to deal with in the future.”

The sheriff said it also means six people whose families may stay together and six people who will not be committing other crimes to pay for their drugs.

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