Looking at the Meth Problem in Wisconsin

By: John DesRivieres Email
By: John DesRivieres Email

"From our perspective, it's one of the most addictive drugs we've ever seen hit this area," said Dave Forsythe, Special Investigator with the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

Forsythe has been investigating Wisconsin drug cases for more than 15 years. He's seen the worst of what drugs do to people and their families, especially meth.

"People that used to be great mothers, great fathers, people working good jobs and they have literally given up everything because the drug has so gotten ahold of them," said Forsythe.

Meth production in the state has gone down in recent years, but remains a constant problem, especially in central Wisconsin because many meth cooks set up shop in secluded, rural areas.

Of the 32 meth labs broken up by Wisconsin law enforcement in 2011, 18 of them were in counties in Newschannel 7's coverage area.

"Lincoln County got hit really hard, Marathon County, Wood County, but Lincoln County got hit the hardest around here," said Forsythe.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen says, meth labs aren't as common as they were in the early 2000's, but law enforcement still has their hands full because of increased importation.

Over the years, drug dealers have worked their way east, from the west coast and now imported meth has gained a strong foothold in the midwest.

"Fewer labs has called for greater importation, obviously when there's dual availability both through importation and local production, it increases the supply a little bit, so that's created a recent problem as well," said Attorney General Van Hollen.

Because it's made up of hazardous chemicals, meth has devestating health effects on it's users.

Addicts commonly report rotting teeth, open flesh wounds from picking at imaginary bugs that they believe are under their skin, people even start to smell like the dangerous chemicals they are ingesting.

All of those chemicals also make meth cook sites very dangerous.

For every pound of meth that is produced, about 6 pounds of hazardous waste is generated.

Much of that waste is poured down drains or dumped into the environment where it can stay for years. The average cost to clean up a meth lab is about $2,000.

"It's very important when you approach these labs that you do it appropriately. You don't want to mix the wrong things, there are always environmental concerns, basically they are hazardous materials and these are haz-mat sites," said Attorney General Van Hollen.

To battle the meth problem, the state is putting considerable resources into stopping it's production and helping addicts and their families recover.

The state's Drug Endangered Children program gives the children of drug addicts the tools they need to live healthy and productive lives after their parents have been arrested for drug use.

The state's "CLEAR" initiative gives specialized training to law enforcement on the unique dangers related to meth labs and users.

But Attorney General Van Hollen says, it's becoming more difficult to finance these programs, because funding that traditionally came from the federal government, has dried up over the years.

"We tried to pick up the slack through settlement proceeds and other monies that we've had come into the D.O.J. and we do that because it's so terribly important, we can't cease these initiatives and continue to keep our communities safe," said Attorney General Van Hollen.

Newschannel 7's special report on meth continues Thursday night, when we introduce you to a meth addict who's trying to rebuild her life, after losing everything.

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