TOPICS > Politics

Heroin-Related Crimes Surge in Wisconsin

August 4, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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As part of NewsHour Connect, which showcases the best of public broadcasting from around the country, Frederica Freyberg of Wisconsin Public Television reports on the surge of heroin-related crimes there.
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GWEN IFILL: For those stations not taking a pledge break, the NEWSHOUR continues now with a story from a project we call Newshour Connect.

That’s where we showcase the best of public broadcasting from around the country. Tonight, how one state is dealing with a surge in heroin-related crimes. Frederica Freyberg of Wisconsin Public Television reports.

FEMALE: If it can save one person’s life, I guess that’s my goal. Heroin is overlooked. People say it can’t happen to them, and I believe I am a person who always thought that.

FREDERICA FREYBERG, WISCONSIN PUBLIC TELEVISION: This Janesville mother does not want to be seen on camera. She does not want her son’s name used. He was 18 when he fatally overdosed on heroin two years ago. He had been college-bound.

(on camera): How did you find out that’s what he was doing?

FEMALE: The day he died. I didn’t know he was using heroin. I had no clue. I knew he had smoked pot, but I had no clue.

FREDERICA FREYBERG: Authorities call this an alarming trend: Young people jumping from marijuana directly to heroin, and the strength and purity of the drug today make overdoses more likely.

MALE: The next thing I know, my dad is breaking down the door. I’m laying on the floor, blood and stuff coming out of my nose, fighting for breath.

FREDERICA FREYBERG: Adam says he overdosed nearly fatally twice. He had been a good student and a high school athlete.

MALE: If you’re looking for that bang for your buck, heroin is going to get that for you.

FREDERICA FREYBERG: Adam is now clean and has been for nearly three years. He says as a teenager, pot smoking progressed to pill taking, Oxycodone pain prescriptions he found in medicine cabinets. Soon, he says, he was snorting heroin.

Heroin use is up nearly 400 percent in the last five years in Wisconsin, coming in by car, where at any given moment along the interstates drug runners could be bringing the heroin in from south of the border. Like from Rockford, Illinois, which, along with Chicago, has become a heroin hub in the Midwest. Police there say the drug comes directly from Mexico.

A state crime lab map of cases by county shows heroin on the move.

But one county, made up of small cities and large tracks of farm land, is taking a direct hit by virtue of place.

Rock County has recently been included in the federally designated high-intensity drug trafficking area, along with Dane and Milwaukee Counties. Marv Wopat is a county supervisor, and on the Human Services Board in Rock County. He is also a drug counselor, himself 30 years sober. He knows Adam from local support group meetings.

MARV WOPAT, ROCK COUNTY, WISCONSIN SUPERVISOR: We need to get — put money where it’s going to do the best, and locking them up isn’t where it’s at.

FREDERICA FREYBERG: Especially not with the squeeze on government budgets. In 2006 in Rock County, there were calls to build a new jail to house inmates, many of them drug abusers whose numbers pushed the jail to 30 percent over-capacity. Today, the jail is under capacity and required only a remodel.

MALE: Good morning. This is a session of Rock County drug court…

FREDERICA FREYBERG: Because instead, the county started a drug treatment court. This day, six of the participants, including this woman, were there because of heroin.

MALE: The idea was, let’s try a drug court that will keep people out of jail, save money on that end, save the county the need to build a jail to house these folks, and if it’s successful, also provide for opportunities to give treatment to become drug- and alcohol-free, and do other things to take responsibility in their lives.

FREDERICA FREYBERG: Judge Richard Werner describes the court as a success, counting 92 graduates; only seven of those subsequently charged with crimes.

MALE: I truly believe that this program saved my life. Going on nine months completely sober. It’s the first time since I was probably 12 years old, it’s been that long.

FREDERICA FREYBERG: And still, even with the success stories, law enforcement on the front lines…

MALE: So she basically went there and shot up at the trailer?

FREDERICA FREYBERG: … are scared by the continuing flow of heroin into their communities.

MALE: I’m scared because the drug ravages the youth. And it started off with kids in high school experimenting with different drugs, and once they get hooked on the stuff, it’s a lifetime addiction.

FREDERICA FREYBERG: Or worse.

FEMALE: I wish I had my son back, I wish he was here, every day.