Heroin addiction does not discriminate, and it will take a multi-faceted community approach to tackle it.
That was one of the messages last Friday, Nov. 7, when 125 people from throughout Waupaca County attended a day-long summit about the issue.
“People don’t just wake up today and think, ‘This is the day I’m going to try heroin. This is the day I’m going to stick a needle in my arm,'” said Chuck Price, Waupaca County’s Health and Human Services director.
He said heroin impacts people up and down the socioeconomic ladder, and it is time to get to the root of the issue.
“Our hope for today is this is a jumping off point,” Price said.
“Why do some of our neighbors use?” asked Kasey Kaepernick, Waupaca County’s Healthy Beginners manager.
Kaepernick is also a Trauma Informed Care coordinator and a Wisconsin ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Interface Master Trainer.
The ACE study is ongoing research which shows the link between childhood trauma and health, social and economic risks.
As part of the study, one point is attributed to each category of exposure to child abuse or neglect. A higher score means a greater exposure and therefore a greater risk of negative consequences, according to the study.
A five-pillar approach that includes prevention, harm reduction, law enforcement, treatment and the workplace is recommended, he said.
Kaepernick told those in attendance to think about how growing up in a constant state of stress and worry affects a child.
Doug Darby did just that.
He was 2 years old when his mother gave his father an ultimatum, telling him to clean up or she would leave.
His father abused alcohol, methamphetamine and heroin.
Darby was a toddler when his mother moved him and her from their home in Seattle to Green Bay.
Her rule was that if his father was using drugs, Darby could not see him.
Darby’s father stayed sober for 10 years, and Darby visited him in the summers.
But, on Aug. 26, 2001, Darby watched as his mother received a telephone call.
His father was dead, dying with a rope around his neck and a needle in his arm.
Darby was 15.
From a young age, he said he would never follow the path of his father.
However, Darby was 9 when he tried marijuana for the first time.
He liked how it made him feel.
By the time he was in high school, he wondered what other drugs were out there and experimented with everything.
“I grew up in Howard-Suamico. Drugs were not in the house. I had a good mom and step-dad,” Darby said.
In the back of his head, Darby always said, “At least I’m not using heroin.”
He did not realize he was one step away from the drug.
Darby was about 18 when he tried heroin for the first time and was 20 when he put a needle in his arm for the first time.
On Aug. 26, 2010, he found himself putting fear into a woman’s face at a Walgreens when he demanded OxyContin from her.
Two weeks later, he robbed another place.
In jail, Darby wanted to die but began thinking about his younger brother and sister.
Following his prison sentence, he now speaks to students throughout the state.
Darby and Anthony Alvarado are the co-founders of Rise Together, a recovery advocacy group in Appleton that believes in prevention, education and community outreach.
The two of them started Rise Together in September of 2013, and both are in long-term recovery.
They, along with Kaepernick, said communities need to work together to make change.
Kaepernick said the philosophy of Waupaca County’s Health and Human Services is to look at symptoms and problems and consider if they are the result of past traumatic experiences.
“It is about what has happened to the child or family, not what is wrong with you,” he said.
Those who are part of Rise Together have stood in front of thousands of students, and Alvarado said the generalizations about heroin users need to stop.
Gaps in treatment across the state are a concern, he said.
However, new options are becoming available, some because of how communities are coming together, Alvarado said.
Brad Dunlop is the supervisor of the Lake Winnebago Area MEG Unit, and he said drug dealing is a global issue.
The effects of heroin last six to eight hours, he said, and Nalaxone (Narcan) is a narcotic drug used to reverse the effects of heroin.
“Once the heart stops, Narcan will not be effective,” Dunlop said.
He said drugs typically seep slowly into a community, but that was not the case with heroin.
The individuals who were transporting crack cocaine are now transporting heroin, he said.
The big problems, Dunlop said, are not only treatment options for those addicted to the drug, but also availability.
“You have to get them in touch with a treatment person now,” he said. “That’s the trick. That’s what you have to decide. How to deal with it as a community.”
Don Waldrop, administrator of ThedaCare Physicians in Waupaca, said the clinic focused on prescription drug abuse.
He is pleased with the decrease in prescription drug abuse in the Waupaca area but said an increase in heroin use is now being seen.
“We need to get on top of it,” Waupaca County Sheriff Brad Hardel said of the heroin issue.
Next year, the sheriff’s department will have two new full-time drug officers.
“Our goal, obviously, is to get the dealer,” Hardel said. “If you’re a dealer of heroin in Waupaca County, we’re coming for you.”
He said the department will be hitting the “drug problem hard” and also said law enforcement needs information and contacts from the public.
Hardel wants people to understand it takes time and is a team approach.
Ken Hoffmann, a Marinette County assistant district attorney, said aggressive law enforcement is vital.
His approach is to ask for strong, significant sentences for those who deal drugs.
“If you send someone to prison for five years, they won’t be on the street dealing for five years,” Hoffmann said.
On Aug. 1, Marinette County started a drug court, and Hoffmann says there also needs to be a push to educate parents and children about the dangers and consequences of heroin.
Jeremiah Winscher, a Wisconsin Department of Justice agent, said the issue needs to be attacked from multiple angles.
“If it doesn’t fit. if it doesn’t look right, you’re probably right,” he said as he told those in attendance that information can lead to probable cause.
Price said a direction will now be sought for Waupaca County.
Alvarado said the sharing of stories breaks down the stigma tied to heroin addiction.
“We’re changing the world through story telling,” he said. “If we all act together, we will find a stronger solution.”