Lawmakers address rise in meth abuse in Wisconsin - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Lawmakers address rise in meth abuse in Wisconsin

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Eau Claire (WQOW) - Law enforcement is hopeful for solutions to combat Wisconsin's rising methamphetamine abuse following a promise from Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) to set aside funds to support drug courts and rehabilitation facilities in his proposed biennial budget. 

Gov. Scott Walker said there is no simple solution to Wisconsin's meth problem. 

"We're doing everything from improvement in treatment, education, intervention and some law enforcement components," Gov. Walker said. "There's a whole series of things leading to this, and we are trying to combat it in many different ways."

On Thursday, Attorney General Brad Schimel joined FBI and DEA officials to bring a group of lawmakers up to speed on the problem at the capitol. They said the northern part of the state is where use of the drug has grown the most with a pound of meth going for about $3,500.

Representative John Spiros (R-Marshfield) said the conference with Schimel was an eye-opening experience. 

"I don't think lawmakers understand that we have this issue," Rep. Spiros said. "I think everybody understands drug abuse in Wisconsin as a heroin problem, not a meth problem. It is pretty horrendous because meth is a rug issue that has just catapulted over the last few years."

Rep. Spiros said possible solutions include tracking over-the-counter drugs used to make meth, like common cold medicine. 

"I believe that is the premise of giving your driver's license, but I am not sure that technology is there today to track who is buying it and how much they are buying." Rep. Spiros said. "That is something we need to look at."

The Eau Claire County Sheriff's Department said most meth is distributed in the Twin Cities, but is made by the Mexican cartel, a reason why some lawmakers are calling for increased border patrol. Spiros said meth can be hard to track because it has no scent that can be detected by dogs. 

"If someone even legally is crossing the border, they can't tell if they have meth from the standpoint of the smell," Rep. Spiros said. "A lot of this is coming in parcels, so it is something that we have to look at, but I think there are other things that we are going to have to do a lot with that."

According to the Eau Claire County 2016 Mid-Year Review Criminal Justice Report, there has been a 240 percent increase in meth cases from 2012 to 2015. Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer said the drug can impact the health of children in homes where meth is used, and it can increase crime as addicts turn to theft and violence to support their habit. 

Cramer added taxpayers cover the cost of the drug as meth uses up the criminal justice system's resources. 

"At the Eau Claire County Jail, we've been hovering around operational capacity, which is 80 percent full, for the last couple of years, and it is directly related to methamphetamine," Cramer said. "If we could get methamphetamine out of our community, we would probably drop 75-100 inmates out of our daily population."

Cramer said there has been some relief with the community transition center that tests offenders who would otherwise be sitting in the county jail on a cash bond, saving Eau Claire County more than 19,000 jail bed days in 2016.  

"That has been a Godsend for us," Cramer said. "When we see multiple cases, we can't just release the person without some check and balance."

Law enforcement said the results emphasize the importance of investing in prevention and treatment of meth abuse. 

"We can't arrest our way out of it. There is no way."

Eau Claire County does have a meth response committee that was formed in March of 2015 in response to the increase in methamphetamine cases in the court system and community. Additional information about meth and treatment resources can be found on the Methamphetamine Response Committee website. 

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