Addicts would be closely monitored
By Robert Cloud
Waupaca County needs to change how it responds to the heroin crisis.
That’s the message that law enforcement, judges, probation officers and health care workers shared with the Waupaca County Finance Committee at a meeting on Aug. 11.
“We have a terrible problem with heroin,” Judge Raymond Huber said. “Waupaca County is seeing increased heroin addiction, more drug overdoses and deaths.”
Huber asked the Finance Committee to consider funding a drug treatment court that focuses on heroin addicts.
“Individuals in treatment court will be under intense supervision and be monitored to be sure they stay clean and sober,” Huber said.
Kaye Thompson, a ThedaCare community health coordinator, facilitates the Waupaca County Health Action Team (CHAT), a group that examines local health issues.
Thompson said a county drug court would include a coordinator, representatives from city and county law enforcement, probation and parole agents, social workers, a public defender, a prosecutor and two judges.
She described drug court as “a team approach focusing on sobriety and accountability with the judge as the central figure.”
Instead of the current system of arresting, prosecuting and either incarcerating or placing drug offenders on probation, they would be in a treatment program.
“They are provided intensive treatment and other required services to stay clean and sober, held accountable by the judge for meeting their obligations, randomly and regularly tested for drug use, appear in court regularly and rewarded for doing well or sanctioned for not living up to their obligations,” Thompson said.
In 2015, Waupaca police made 13 arrests for delivery of heroin and 102 drug charges were filed from the city of Waupaca, of which 27 were felonies. There were eight prescription drug thefts in Waupaca last year, Thompson said.
County law enforcement responded to 321 drug complaints and 422 burglary, theft or robbery complaints in 2015.
To date in 2016, county law enforcement has responded to 269 drug complaints.
“The Waupaca hospital sees the most heroin overdoses in the ThedaCare system and that includes Appleton and Neenah,” Thompson said.
“Currently, we are overwhelmed by our heroin clients,” said Amanda Ayala, who supervises nine local probation officers. “We are barely keeping our heads above water just trying to keep our clients alive.”
Ayala said incarcerating heroin addicts does not change their behavior.
“What we’ve used in the past is not working,” Ayala said.
Ayala said that of 381 convictions in Waupaca County as of July 31, 2016, 204 of those were drug-related.
In the first seven months of 2016, drug-related probation holds cost Waupaca County approximately $86,800.
Ayala also noted that drug addiction leads to other crimes, such as burglaries and domestic violence.
“There is no question that we deal with the same people, over and over,” said Waupaca County Sheriff Brad Hardel. “Over 90 percent of our users are repeaters.”
Hardel noted his department has assigned two officers to focus full time on drug enforcement.
Thompson said Barron County has run a successful drug court for 11 years.
“They budget $115,000 per year for personnel, toxicology, AODA outpatient and residential inpatient,” Thompson said.
She estimated the county can establish a drug treatment court for a similar cost.
“The only person who is needed is a drug court coordinator,” Thompson said. “The team is ready.”
She said drug courts produce savings by reducing crime and reducing costs associated with incarceration and supervision.
The Finance Committee asked that the group provide more information on how the program would work and which department would supervise it.
“I like the concept, but I want to see the details,” Supervisor Pat Craig said.
CHAT members told the committee they would return in the future with a more detailed plan for the program.