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Heroin threat requires awareness, action: Our View

Rise in heroin addiction is a threat we must combat

3:55 PM, Oct. 3, 2013  |  Comments
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There are a lot of destructive, addictive drugs that do harm to the body and mind of an addict. But one of the most dangerous illegal drugs is also one that law enforcement officials say is becoming increasingly popular across Wisconsin. It's heroin, and it is here in our community.

This should not be news to anyone. Law enforcement officials and anti-drug coalitions have been sounding the alarm about the heroin, which has spiked in popularity since changes in the makeup of prescription opiates made getting a fast high from those drugs difficult. And if it seems like news of heroin-related arrests is more common, that's because it is: The number of arrests rose from 267 in 2008 to 673 in 2012, and the increase is not abating, as police made 408 arrests in the first six months of 2013, according to the Department of Justice.

In fact, on the same day Gannett Wisconsin Media reported on a new heroin awareness campaign launched by Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, we also reported that a sentencing date had been set for a man convicted of trafficking the drug in the Wausau area.

So if there was ever any doubt, let's do away with it now: Heroin addiction is not the province of large urban areas. It is here in central Wisconsin and we need to pay attention to it.

Fighting the drug requires a broad community effort. It means parents need to understand the warning signs in their children; public health officials need to seek ways of getting addicts the treatment they need; and law enforcement needs to continue to do its job in cracking down on dealers of the pernicious drug.

With the new awareness campaign, the DOJ also announced a $25,000 grant to the local AOD Partnership's Pushback Against Drug Abuse campaign, a public information and awareness initiative that has sponsored public events and provides a clearinghouse of resources at its website, www.pushbackdrugs.com.

Like other drugs, heroin has evolved into purer forms in recent years. One of the things this means is that it is easier to become addicted to the drug, and it is no longer the case that it necessarily requires a needle (though many still do inject it). Opiate addictions can seize a person's life and not let go - and at some point, for at least some late-stage addicts, every time getting high is a way of courting death by overdose.

At a press conference in Wausau last week, state Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, shared his own family story of finding his daughter passed out on the bathroom floor with a heroin needle still in her arm. It is a nightmare for any parent. It tears families apart and it kills.

The threat is real, and it will take work to roll back the drug's gaining popularity.

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