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September 2014

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Evidence of heroin addiction seen every day in the community

At least two people a shift come into Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital trying to fraudulently get a prescription for opiates, according to Dr. Tim Westlake.

Westlake said the rising problem of opiate abuse is really more than a problem. "It's an epidemic," he said.

Today, Westlake said, you are more likely to die of an opiate overdose than in a car accident.

Westlake spoke at a recent community meeting hosted by the Ashippun Fire Department regarding the prevalence of drugs in the community. More than 100 people turned out for the meeting, said Fire Chief Deonne Eske. Topics ranged from how to watch for suspicious activity in your neighborhood to tips on keeping your medications locked up. All have said opiate and heroin abuse is seen across all ages and demographics.

Michael Miller, medical director of Rogers Memorial Hospital Herrington Recovery Center, said you will see opiate addiction among younger generations, especially in more affluent communities such as Lake Country because they have the means to buy pills, he said.

"There is a shocking number of young people in high school and junior high using pills and heroin," he said.

Miller explained the addiction mostly comes from a single source: a valid prescription. Miller and Westlake both said that became more prevalent as the medical industry began prescribing pain pills such as Vicodin and OxyContin more over the last 10 years.

"We didn't use to have these pills and then there was a shift about 10 years ago. And people do have real pain, but then they get hooked," on the drugs, he said.

From pills to heroin

Abuse can come out of legitimate prescription for pain, or it can also come from someone deciding to take a pain pill to get high, but the end result can be heroin use and/or overdose.

Miller said even if you don't hold the prescription yourself, someone can always get the pills through someone else — a family member or friend who does have a prescription.

Dodge County District Attorney Kurt Klomberg said there have been 30 deaths related to the use of heroin and opiates in Dodge County since 2008.

He said heroin use in the community has continued to grow, with a spike in cases in 2011. Klomberg said the issue is not limited to the drugs themselves, but causes increased criminal activity in the community.

The cost of prescription drugs not only leads to criminal activity, but also to using heroin, which is cheaper.

"People will first start with pills because they think they're safe. They know they are made by a pharmaceutical company and prescribed by a doctor. They say they would never use heroin.

"However, over time when an addiction sets in, someone who says they would never use heroin or never use a needle end up using it. It's less expensive," Klomberg explained.

Miller said that while 90 percent of addiction treatment was previously for alcohol, that number has changed. Now, 50 percent are seeking treatment for opiate addiction.

Last month, Eske said, her department responded to three overdoses within two weeks. Even as the community meeting was under way, an officer with the Neosho, Rubicon and Ashippun Police Department had to leave abruptly to take part in a heroin bust.

The next night, Westlake said, a 20-year-old from Dousman died of a heroin overdose.

Watch for signs of use

Eske said the message at the community meeting was what to watch for, not only in your neighborhood, but in your home.

"Always keep medication locked. Even grandchildren could take them," she said. Or, Miller added, their friends without anyone knowing.

Watch for changes in your children if you suspect them, Eske said. Watch for changes in their behavior, if they're moody or secretive. "Ask to see their cellphones. Be the parent," she said.

Miller is one of the American Board of Addiction Medicine certified physicians at Rogers. "There are now medicines that are effective to help (with opiate addiction)," he said. "And we strongly encourage 12-step programs, which can be the most-effective treatment." For more information, visit abam.net.

Klomberg encourages community participation and discussions like the recent meeting.

"I don't see this as solely a law-enforcement issue. It's more of a community-based issue. Law enforcement does have a role, but many people (who use heroin) don't ever find themselves in the courts," he said. "We've been working on how to develop better resources for people not involved in the criminal justice system."

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