Heroin and prescription drug use and abuse is not only a growing problem nationally, but also throughout Central and North Central Wisconsin. Two counties, however are taking steps to stop it.
Portage and Wood County city officials, law and drug enforcement, physicians, and school leaders met Tuesday for the second Heroin Summit to discuss what the problems are and share ideas on how to combat them. Tuesday's summit focused on prevention and educating the community.
"I think it's the most significant and scary drug issue in our community right now," said Wisconsin Rapids Police Chief, Kurt Heuer.
Heroin is one of the most readily available and commonly used drugs in the area. It's something drug investigators deal with every day.
"90% of their drug cases right now have a heroin component that they're working," said Heuer.
He said the reason is because of prescription drugs.
"Maybe it started with accute pain, short-term pain killer, opiate-based as a remedy, started an addiction, cannot get that any longer, have an avenue to find heroin, which is available and that's kind of that next step," he said.
That's why they have the summit, to allow for new idea and perspectives to come to the table, such as using a public forum to educate people on the signs of addiction, abuse and what to do about it.
"Many people don't believe or have a hard time believing that heroin is a problem and therefore don't look for the key signs to be able to address it," said Stevens Point Police Chief, Kevin Ruder.
He said usage is wide spread and can start with people as young as 12-years-old, which is why schools officials have become apart of the discussion.
"It was really an educational effort today to let them know that there are issues out there that are involving their students and what can we do about it," Ruder said. "They in-turn educate us as far as the different students that they have and what kind of resources that they have and are utilizing."
Heurer said there are signs that everyone, especially parents, can look for to see if their student or someone they know is abusing.
"The biggest thing is watching changes of behavior, so all of a sudden, if their child is acting different, with a different circle of friends, there might be changes in eating, changes in music that they listen to, changes in anything that triggers mom and dad and they see or hear that red flag, they need to invest in finding out why," he said.
Ruder said working together with the other partnerships to get community awareness and involvement is key to help stop or at least lessen this problem, and get people using it now to get the help they need.
Organizers said they plan to continue this conversation and will schedule another summit, which will likely happen in the next two and half to three months.
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