Hooked: Part 1 - Wausau's Growing Heroin Problem

By: Clare Kaley Email
By: Clare Kaley Email

A heroin epidemic is hitting northcentral Wisconsin and young people are dying. Once considered a big city drug, heroin is now a top priority for law enforcement in our area.

Police are zeroing in on drug dealers, right in your backyard. The main target: heroin. Our camera went along to a shopping center in Rib Mountain on an undercover buy/bust deal. An undercover police officer met two people looking to sell heroin. The suspects sold an 8-ball- over three grams of heroin. Once police knew the deal is done, they hone in on the suspects.

View Heroin, Meth, and Cocaine in Wausau in a larger map
This is NewsChannel 7's interactive map of the nearly 150 Heroin, Cocaine, and Meth-related incidents within the City of Wausau in the last 18 months. Map is regularly updated. Activity by the Drug Unit is not included.

Juan Quintero was one of the suspects arrested on the scene; the search of his home found even more. There, police discovered more heroin, crack cocaine and an AK-47. Quintero is now charged with 15 drug related felonies.

Unfortunately, even a bust like this barely scratches the surface. The Marathon County Sheriff’s Department, Everest Metro Department and Wausau Police Department have made dozens of busts all around central Wisconsin neighborhoods.

Gary Schneck is a Lieutenant with the Special Investigations Unit at the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department. He says heroin has become an epidemic in our area in just the past few years.

“I think it’s a pretty significant problem in the area,” says Schneck, “it’s something that’s affected cities the size of Wausau in our region.”

The drug is taking a toll on the community. In 2011, Marathon County saw three overdose fatalities from heroin. In 2012, there were four deaths. So far in 2013, Marathon County has seen three heroin related fatalities.

The rise of heroin on our streets is due in part to the new time release on a commonly abused pain killer. Just a few years ago, pharmacies were targets for drug users here in central Wisconsin, looking to get high on OxyContin. But in 2010, OxyContin was changed to make it harder to get high.

Lieutenant Schneck says just a few weeks after OxyContin changed, police started seeing a huge influx of heroin on the streets.

Schneck explains, “time release, you don’t get the same high that you did off of the OxyContin, if you’re abusing OxyContin, because it’s slowly dissolved into your system with the time release on it, you don’t get that – immediate high, euphoria, that you get from heroin.”

During the fourth quarter of 2012, Wausau Health Services admitted 76 patients. Of those patients, about 70 percent reported a history of IV heroin use, and nearly half were Wausau residents.

Deb Piskoty, the clinical director at Wausau Health Services says she sees more and more patients dealing with heroin everyday. Of those 76 admits, nearly 40 percent were between the ages of 18 and 25 years old. Of those 18 to 25-year-olds admitting, about 80 percent had a history of IV heroin use. The average age that they began using drugs was 13-years-old.

Heroin is an extremely addictive drug, but it has more harmful effects than just addiction. Hepatitis and HIV have seen significant increases. Even if you don’t know someone using heroin, it’s costing you money.

“This translates into significant costs for our healthcare system legal system and our taxes,” explains Piskoty, “But even more importantly, this addiction is destroying the lives of our children and their families. There families have not asked for this disease, nor does anyone deserve it.”

Heroin related incidents have spread through the community, over 20 incidents already this year. For now, law enforcement and community leaders are just beginning to grasp, and respond, to a central Wisconsin that’s hooked on heroin.

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