Eau Claire (WQOW) - Methamphetamine use is at an all-time high in Eau Claire, and local law enforcement say it isn't always kept in the shadows or the streets, and often affects parents in the community.
News 18s own Kaitlyn Riley has been digging deeper into the issue for over a month, and, in that time, was introduced to an area mother who is on the right track to 'move from meth.'
Sarah Ferber's high in life is having her two boys by her side, after a history of using and selling drugs. "Meth was introduced to me around 19," she said. "I would say early on, it was just kind of a once a month thing. It didn't become a serious issue until years later."
A series of drug charges put Ferber in and out of jail and through multiple attempts at treatment. "I continued to use. You know how crappy of a person you are being, and when you are taking substances, it's making those feelings go away," she explained. "It's just not people going out and wanting to use drugs. There are other issues that are going on."
Ferber was dealing with abusive relationships, emotional distress and family problems. "Meth was always king of my, I could do it, and usually I would go on benders for not just a couple of days, but for a couple of months," she said. "I wanted to party for the weekend...and and it turned into a year and a half."
Ferber hit rock bottom when she lost her job and became homeless. "This is where I am, like, maybe not quite fully accepting that I am an addict, but fully accepting that something serious needs to change in my life," she explained. "And that is when AIM court was brought to my attention."
Eau Claire County's AIM Court, or Alternatives to Incarcerating Mothers, was designed to keep families together. It took Ferber two tries, but she has now been sober for 15 months, and says AIM is the reason. "Those classes make a big difference," she said.
"I could potentially relapse at any point, and it could destroy my life," recovering methamphetamine addict Jacqie Reetz admitted in AIM Court. "But right now, I have the resources to help me get back up and pick up my life again. I don't want to be that kind of parent anymore."
Ferber is now dedicated to reconnecting with her kids, and moving forward with their future.
"My kids are really good kids, and I've been blessed," she said. "They love the crap out of me, and I'm very lucky because I love the crap out of them too."
In Ferber's second time of going through AIM, a grant gave options for additional classes to address behavioral and emotional problems. AIM Court said with grant money running out, they are looking at partnering agencies to find funding for the area's growing population of mothers who need care.
Ferber is currently studying social work at UW-Eau Claire and loving life with her sons, both of which are healthy and haven't had any second-hand effects from their mother's drug use. Law enforcement say other children in the Chippewa Valley aren't as lucky as Ferber's sons.
"Meth specifically attacks your brain by affecting the dopamine in your brain," Lieske Giese, with the Eau Claire City County Health Department, said. "Dopamine is what causes pleasure. When people have that rush...they want it again, and that overload is not only addictive, but also causes enormous health consequences."
Poor oral health, skin conditions, insomnia, and heart and breathing issues are all physical concerns that come with meth use. All problems that meth-using parents can pass on to their children. "Parents who are methamphetamine users cannot take proper care of their children," Matt Rokus, Eau Claire deputy police chief, said.
Neglect is not just an issue for meth-using parents. "The meth smoke is getting on everyday items that the child is going to have contact with," Bridget Coit, a detective in the Sensitive Crimes Unit of the Eau Claire Police Department, said. "They don't deserve to sleep in a pillow that is covered in meth residue, and they don't deserve to have the toys that they are putting in their mouth covered in meth of other drugs that are going to affect their system and their upbringing."
Don Henning, a detective with the Eau Claire County Sheriff's Department, said children are also exposed to absorption, or skin-to-skin contact with the user. "If the parent is injecting it, the body does not break down the entire drug or consume the drug, so they secrete it through their sweat and through their skin pores. Infants or really small children that are held or carried a lot by parents, their tests show extremely high counts of methamphetamine in their system."
Law enforcement said the problem will not be solved by tearing children away from family, but instead it starts with taking meth out of the equation.
"The rise on methamphetamine use in the Chippewa Valley is a trend that is not going away anytime soon," Rokus explained. "But, it is a trend that we do not and refuse to accept."