Hard drug use on the rise in western Wisconsin - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Hard drug use on the rise in western Wisconsin

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Menomonie (WQOW)- Drug use is a problem in western Wisconsin, but law enforcement says it's tough to know how big the problem is.

WQOW learned on Thursday that about 11 people have been indicted for drug trafficking and firearms offenses.  Authorities say they seized about 70 pounds of high-grade marijuana worth more than $225,000 from a vehicle in western Wisconsin.  Investigators did not provide more specific information about where in western Wisconsin.  The 11 suspects indicted are from eastern Wisconsin.

"We focus on the harder drugs," explains Investigator Martin Folczyk with the Menomonie Police Department.

Menomonie says in the past few years, it's focused much of its attention on addressing three problems.

"The meth, the heroin and the abuse of prescription drugs as well are the cases that are causing more problems," Martin notes.

Menomonie police say before 20-10, heroin arrests were rare; but not anymore.

"In a five-year span, I think we had one or two cases and then we've done probably a dozen cases in that two-year period," Martin remembers.

The L.E. Phillips Libertas Treatment Center says heroin-use locally is definitely on the rise.  In fact, just this year alone, it has already checked in hundreds of patients in connection with heroin.

"For the last three years, synthetic opiates have become a big problem; all the prescription drugs. And then when your prescription-opiates become less available, it's a really easy switch for people to move then to heroin," explains AODA Clinical Supervisor Brenda Goettl with the L.E. Phillips Libertas Treatment Center.

The center says it's trying to find ways to help.

"Because we do know that heroin addiction is such a problem in our community, we do want to help people be educated and understand more about what's happening," Goettl says.  "So we are partnering with St. Joseph's Hospital in the spring to do a conference to address what's happening in our community."

Police say the problem of drug use could be far greater than what is known.  Here's an example:  when someone is admitted to a hospital for a heroin overdose, police may never know that it happened because of the HIPAA law, which protects patient privacy.

"If we allowed police officers in, that would keep people from getting treatment," Goettle explains.  "That is why confidentiality became a federal regulation in the first place."

Police say most of the heroin that makes its way to western Wisconsin comes from Mexico or Colombia originally and then is shipped to either the Twin Cities or Chicago.

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