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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Heroin Use Continues Huge Problem In Marinette County

National Publication

Cites Growing Drug

Use In Rural Areas




“Yes, our drug problem is serious,” Marinette Circuit Court Judge Jim Morrison told the county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee on Friday, Aug. 9, “but our law enforcement is working hard to stop this, while some other counties are not. Others who say they have no problems are just kidding themselves. You get a black eye sometimes because of your successes.”

Heroin was the main topic of conversation at the committee’s meeting on Friday, Aug. 9. That should come as no surprise. The huge heroin problem in the Marinette/Menominee and Dickinson County areas of Wisconsin and Michigan has been a main concern of law enforcement and social service agencies for the past few years, and appears to be getting worse, not better.

A Tri-County Task Force has been working hard to combat a problem many feel was started, or at least greatly excaberated, by a Menominee physician who had been prescribing Oxycontin, Oxycodone or similar opiates to just about anyone who walked into his office. That doctor is now in a Michigan state prison, but people who deal with the problem he left behind say many of his former “patients” turned to heroin or other street drugs to satisfy their addictions when their “legal” source was eliminated. Their efforts to feed their costly habit led to ability of drug dealers to recruit new “sales people” to encourage others to try it and expand use of the drug.

According to figures from the Wisconsin Department of Justice, from 2008 to 2011, the State Crime Lab investigated 52 heroin cases in Marinette County. That report said only six counties in the state had more heroin cases in that time period, with no adjustment for larger populations elsewhere.

Marinette County has been identified by the state as having a higher heroin abuse record per capita than any other county in the state, according to a report by Health and Human Services Director Robin Elsner at a HHS Planning Committee meeting in June of this year.

That may be because there are more addicts, or it may be because there are more arrests in relation to the number of addicts.

Morrison said after the meeting that 75 to 80 percent of the cases in his court somehow involve drugs or alcohol.

In either case, the problem here is so severe that it has gained national attention. On Thursday, Aug. 8 the Wall Street Journal ran an article on a growing Heroin problem in rural areas across the nation, in contrast to a generation ago when it was a big city problem. That 11-paragraph article included three paragraphs on the heroin problem in Marinette.

The article quoted State Rep. John Nygren as saying some employers in Marinette are having difficulty filling positions because so many applicants test positive for heroin. HHS Supervisor Rob Valentine had made a similar comment at the HHS Planning Committee meeting earlier this summer.

The Wall Street Journal article went on, “The problem prompted the local Chamber of Commerce in April to begin assembling a consortium of community organizations to address the problem. Meanwhile, a sharp rise in heroin-related crime has fed a 31 percent increase in the inmate population at the 161-bed local jail over the last few years, according to Jail Administrator Bob Majewski.”

The article noted that Marinette, with only 11,000 residents, has no residential treatment centers for addicts. Sgt. Scott Ries of the Marinette City Police Department told them, “If somebody says, ‘I’m at bottom, I need help,’ there’s nothing that we have to give them...It’s really sad.”

That problem too had been identified well over a year ago by the people charged with enforcing the laws in Marinette County. Judge Morrison and District Attorney Allen Brey have repeatedly told of sending minor drug offenders to state prison rather than county jail in hopes they will benefit from the state-level treatment programs.

At a Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee meeting almost exactly a year ago they identified need for an effective drug rehabilitation program in the jail, with follow-up in the community.

But it’s a hard problem. Those familiar with the drug say heroin can be instantly addictive. Treatment is costly, often unsuccessful, and hard to find.

Hopefully, that will change.

Morrison described a post-treatment court that he and others involved with law enforcement are investigating as an alternative to long prison or jail sentences for addicts found guilty of non-violent crimes. He stressed this would not be a program to “coddle” offenders, it would be a strict regimen aimed at reducing recidivism to the jail.

“There are lots of potential dollars from the state earmarked for communities like ours,” Morrison told the committee. “Our goal is to try to get effective treatment here in the community.”

Among possibilities being explored is a partnership with Brown and Oconto counties through which there could be local treatment, perhaps with administration handled by Brown County. Morrison said he and others have met with Brown County Donald R. Zuidmulder and Oconto County Judge Jay Conley to discuss the possibilities.

The Department of Justice is sponsoring a day-long training session this month on the post treatment court concept, and Morrison said he plans to attend. Elsner said he also plans to be there, and Public Defender Bradley Schraven said he also would like to attend.

Morrison commented the more people who become involved, the better. “These courts have worked elsewhere to reduce recidivism, not eliminate it,” Morrison said, adding that a reduction of even 30 to 50 percent in returns to jail would be a huge improvement.

“We aren’t there yet, we’re just looking at this,” Morrison stressed.

“Judge Morrison just gave me 20 pages of information to read,” remarked Sheriff Jerry Sauve. “I think we can work on this.”

Elsner felt they should not include alcoholism with the post treatment court if it is established. He said they might get some help from the Heroin/Opiate Task Force being formed for the Twin County area, and said the M&M Foundation will be the 401(3)(C) corporation that handles funding and grants. They are looking at a three-pronged treatment program that starts with 12 days of in-house detox, then 90 days of intensive outpatient treatment, perhaps in a halfway house to clear up their lives and establish new relationships, followed by medication treatment until they can get by on their own. He said there are new drugs, such as Vivitrol and Suboxone, that are aimed at weaning opiate addicts from treatment, as opposed to Methadone, which is considered more of a long-term treatment.

He felt a drug court cannot work if they have no treatment alternatives to offer.

Schraven said the Public Defender’s office is involved in drug problems all across the state and he wants to be involved in the local program.

Morrison thanked him, and commented, “If everyone doesn’t get on board with this, it won’t work.”

He stressed that a drug court would in no way be “coddling” these people. Those who are involved will need to come in for drug testing every day, “and if they screw up, they’ll spend the weekend in Bob’s hotel,” referring to Bob Majewski, Marinette County Jail Administrator, who was chairing the meeting.

Schraven said he would like to see a similar program for alcohol, and added that in other areas they have found that people actually prefer more jail time rather than comply with the drug court restrictions.

Majewski reported there are currently eight OWI offenders out of jail on the “Sober Link” bracelet system, seven of them successful so far, and one who is a failure that they haven’t picked up yet. Staying sober is a condition of their bond, Majewski said.

Sober Link is a program that people convicted of drunk driving may be offered, but they have to pay $210 a month to use that option. Morrison was concerned that some people do not use the Sober Link program because they can’t afford it. He said the courts would like to use it more so people convicted of drunk driving can keep their jobs. Comments were that the $210 per month is probably less than a pack of cigarettes a day, or the cost of drinking.

Majewski reported there were 124 in-house jail prisoners in July, plus four out on electric monitoring. Last year at this time there were 103 inmates.

To a question from committee members, Schraven said about half of the prisoners are there for minor crimes. Many are there for heroin, opiate and marijuana possession, “and the other big ones are OWI.” About half of the people jailed for felony offenses also have heroin offenses. Brey said it is common to have heroin users in court for five or six felonies, generally break-ins. Frequently they are charged with more than one offense per complaint, so they list the most serious ones as the reason for being jailed.

As of Aug. 7, the jail held 18 inmates sentenced for felony offenses and 12 for misdemeanor offenses. These included four convicted of theft, two forgery, one food stamp fraud, one each possession of THC, heroin, heroin with intent to deliver, and one for manufacture or delivery of heroin, and three for possession of narcotic drugs.

Five were jailed for misdemeanor OWI, four for felony OWI, and one for felony owi with injury, plus on each for operating after revocation and operating without a driver’s license

Two were jailed for battery, five for failure to pay child support, for failure to pay, 10 for probation holds, three were on their way to prison, two were jailed for short term sanctions, 13 for probation revocations, eight are being held on writs, and two are Oconto County inmates.

Jail inmates awaiting sentencing include 46 for felony offenses plus two for bail jumping, which is a felony, and two for misdemeanor offenses.

Of these, two are there for felony OWAI and one for misdemeanor OWAI, two for reckless endangerment, one for fleeing, four for burglary, two for theft one for theft with a firearm, one for forgery, six for possession of heroin with intent to deliver, 13 for possession of heroin, one with intent to deliver or manufacture a narcotic, one with intent to deliver THC, one for being a felon in possession of a firearm, and one each on warrants for child support, failure to appear, and a felony warrant from another agency.

The jail holds one prisoner held for 1st degree sexual assault, one for lewd or lascivious conduct, one for violating sex offender regulations, two for homicides, two for substantial battery, and one for a threat to injure.

“I don’t think the abilities of the police have changed that much in the past year,” Brey said of the increase in offenses and convictions since last year. He felt the number of crimes is rising.

Majewski said addicts and alcoholics put a strain on jail staff for at least the first 48 to 72 hours of their incarceration. “They’re withdrawing if they’re not trying to hide it somewhere!”

“The work these guys do with gloves on..We’ll spare you the details, but it’s ugly!” Sauve commented.

All agreed there has been an increase in arrests. Sauve said he and Marinette Police Chief John Mabry would like to inform people more about what they are doing, “but too much information would hamstring our investigations...I don’t think the general public understands how much work we put into this.”

Elsner said the Task Force will help with the public relations aspect, and will have a person assigned to that task.

Morrison agreed the drug problem in this area is extremely serious, but added some of the high number of arrests and requests for the state crime lab to test substances may be attributed to just how hard local law enforcement agencies are working on this problem, in contrast to some other counties where perhaps there isn’t such a drive to stem the drug tide.

Returning to a discussion of causes, Schraven said lots of people with drug problems go the next step to delivery because they cannot afford their drugs without it, and they do not know the level of enforcement here.

Sauve said some of them show a sense of relief when they finally go to jail. “It’s over,” they say when they’re arrested.

Majewski told of a young lady who said just that to him. He said he asked her why she started, and she said she had been trying to get her boy friend to quit. He talked her into trying it just once, so she would know what he felt, and once she did that, she told him, “I was hooked!”

She described waiting for that next hit: “It’s like you were being held under water for a long, long time and when you get that next dose of heroin you come up for a breath!”

Sauve reported that he, Judge Morrison and District Attorney Brey have been invited to address the Marinette County Unit of Wisconsin Towns Association on Thursday, Sept. 19. “Town level government is very close to the people,” Sauve commented, “And they’re very concerned and they know what is going on in their communities. They’re good people to stay in touch with.”

The next meeting of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee was set for 8 a.m. Friday, Sept. 20.


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