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Drug use and distribution up, health, law enforcement push back


WAUSAU, WI (WSAU) -  Marathon County has a drug problem, and local officials want to do something about it. Marathon County Alcohol and Other Drug Partnership Council launched their “Push Back Against Drug Abuse” campaign Tuesday. It is an effort to educate the public about the dangers of drugs, and show people just how drugs are affecting the community.

Gary Schneck from the Sheriff’s Department says they’ve seen heroin use rise rapidly in the past three years. “We’ve seen a large increase in the heroin in the last three years, since 2010 when they reformulated oxycontin and oxycodone and started putting time release coatings on the tablets where it slowed down the absorption of the drug into the system. We started seeing a large increase in the amount of heroin on the street, which is something we very rarely saw before that.”

He says another problem is Wausau is a hub of activity for dealers bringing drugs from other areas into the northern communities. Mexican cartels are trafficking drugs through Minneapolis to Wausau, and it’s getting out to smaller towns from there.

Schneck says a typical street serving of crack cocaine or methamphetamine is about $100.00 per gram, and heroin is selling for about $50.00 for one-tenth of one gram, making heroin very easy to move. “A lot higher profit margin on it for a dealer. It’s a lot easier to conceal smaller amounts, transporting it into the area than is, say, crack cocaine or methamphetamine.”

Deb Piskoty from Aspirus Wausau Hospital points out another danger with these drugs is dealers will cut them down or thin them out with other poisonous substances. She says addicts also tend to share dirty needles, putting them at risk for AIDS and Hepatitis C.

The number of drug related incidents is staggering. Wausau Police Chief Jeff Hardel says it is difficult for investigators to track down every case. “79 heroin incidents in the last 18 months. 55 meth incidents, and there is the collateral damage caused by drug use in the crime world is so significant at this point, it just seems like we can’t keep up.” Increased drug activity has lead to increased crime. Hardel says just one group of people has been tied to several well known crimes, including the gun store burglaries in Wausau and Tomahawk. “Crimes that were committed by that group of individuals responsible for the gun store burglaries (include) car break ins, car thefts, I think there was about six stolen cars related to that group, home invasions, burglary, robberies, and so far, three homicides... all from that one group from the gun store burglaries.”

One of the 54 stolen guns was even used in a crime in California.

The court system is also being overloaded by drug cases. Assistant District Attorney Lance Leonhard says they used to split up the occasional drug cases between two or three prosecutors. Not anymore. “This week, I’ve been reassigned to only prosecute felony drug cases, so our office has devoted a full time prosecutor to do that. It continues to put strains on our office.” Leonhard says they used to split the drug case load between a couple of people, but now given the complexity of the cases and the increased volume, the District Attorney’s office has determined a full time (drug) prosecutor is appropriate.”

Melissa Dotter is with the Marathon County Health Department, and coordinates the Drug Free Communities Program and the AOD Partnership. She says they have no idea just how many people are struggling with addiction because the crime statistics don’t tell how many were treated by rescue and hospital staff, or have gone untreated. “We can have some vague idea of how many overdoses there are, but when you look at the availability of things like Narcan that can bring people back from a heroin overdose, we don’t even know how many doses are given out. We really have no exact idea, but what we do know is it’s across any socio-economic class. Everyone is impacted by it.”

Medical Examiner John Larson says more people are dying from these drugs. Marathon County had three fatal overdoses in 2010, eight in 2011, six in 2012, and there have already been three this year.