Marshfield’s heroin problem: Part I
By Adam Hocking
This is the first installment in a series of articles regarding the rising pervasiveness of heroin and prescription opiate abuse in the Marshfield community.
For this week’s article, Hub City Times spoke with Municipal Judge and Marshfield resident, John Adam Kruse. Kruse is the chair of a committee of local leaders that formed in 2013. The committee researches the effects of heroin and how to combat its spread.
MARSHFIELD — Since 2012 there have been six deaths in Marshfield attributed to opioid drugs. Five of the deaths were from drug overdoses, and one was a heroin-related homicide. Between 2005 and 2010, heroin use has more than doubled in the state of Wisconsin. This information is according to an ad-hoc committee of the Marshfield Area Coalition for Youth (MACY), chaired by Municipal Judge John Adam Kruse.
Why the increase in heroin use has occurred in the Marshfield community is not entirely clear, but its effects are. Kruse said that the impact of heroin use is both devastating and far-reaching.
“If you try heroin once, you have a 24.7 percent chance of becoming an addict,” Kruse said.
Beyond the social and legal consequences heroin use creates for Marshfield, Kruse said that it is also a significant detriment to the local economy.
“This is also an economic development issue. Heroin addicts tend not to be nearly as reliable as people who are not addicts,” Kruse said. “It’s an economic development (issue) because we don’t have a reliable labor force, or as reliable I should say.”
He added that the impact of heroin on families is similarly destructive.
“I’ve had people in my court where mothers aren’t interested in having the kids. Think about how powerful the maternal instinct is, and you’re willing to give up your kids because you’d rather get high? It gives you an example of how powerful that addiction is,” Kruse said.
Kruse added that heroin tends to have an exponential quality in regards to how it spreads through a community. Often, Kruse said, heroin users will buy multiple packages or “bindles” of the drug and sell some of them off in order to finance their habit. Then heroin becomes more readily available to more people in the community.
“I am scared of this. I’ll be real blunt. I see this interfering with making Marshfield the best place,” Kruse said.
Kruse added that LifePoint Clean Needle Exchange, which works with drug users to minimize some risk factors by providing sterile injection equipment, is seeing more and more users. According the MACY report, LifePoint is exchanging as many as 2,500 needles per month in Wood County.
“We have a huge problem, and we’re going to have a much bigger problem,” Kruse said. “You need to understand the people that we’re essentially battling. It’s at least a billion dollar industry—heroin pushers, Mexican drug cartels, et cetera. I mean it’s a huge amount of money.”
Kruse pointed out that the state of Vermont, a similarly rural area like Central Wisconsin, spent aggressively to combat the spread of heroin. He applauded that Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin spent nearly his entire “State of the State” address talking about the heroin issue facing Vermont.
“(Vermont is) spending $90 million dollars on prevention and treatment,” Kruse said. “We’re doing nothing. We haven’t been doing anything. That’s why on September 23 Reverend Peter Ruggles will be making a presentation, asking the city for $50,000 a year for five years.”
Ruggles did present to the Marshfield City Council, and the Council placed the project for consideration in the 2015 budget.
In looking at ways to fight the heroin problem in Marshfield, MACY identified what they call a “Four Pillars Drug Strategy.” The pillars are: prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and enforcement.
Prevention aims to stop the use of heroin by increasing awareness and educating the community about the effects of the drug. An example of harm reduction is the LifePoint Clean Needle Exchange. Treatment deals with caring for drug users medically and offering rehabilitation programs. Enforcement is the police aspect of combating the heroin issue.
According to MACY’s report, the harm reduction and enforcement pillars of the strategy are currently adequate in Marshfield, but there are significant deficiencies with treatment and prevention. Marshfield does not currently have an in-patient drug and alcohol residential treatment center, and the cost of creating one would be significant. Therefore, MACY believes the best strategy to fight the spread of heroin is through prevention.
According to MACY’s report, “The more effective the prevention pillar, the less need there will be for the remaining three pillars.”
The money the committee has asked the city for will be dedicated to this prevention effort. In MACY’s proposed budget are: educational materials such as brochures and flyers talking about heroin and prescription drug abuse, billboards for public awareness about the issue, digital marketing campaigns on social media platforms, and funds for presentations at local schools and to the community.
Next week’s article will focus on the law enforcement side of the heroin and prescription drug problem in Marshfield as Hub City Times will sit down with Marshfield Police Chief Rick Gramza.