Pubdate: Sun, 18 Jan 2015
Source: La Crosse Tribune (WI)
Copyright: 2015 The La Crosse Tribune
Author: Cassandra Colson


BLACK RIVER FALLS - Authorities and community members are becoming 
increasingly concerned about the prevalence of heroin use and dealing 
in Jackson County.

Use of the highly addictive opiate is rising, based on drug 
investigations, arrests and other information provided to law 
enforcement, and its impact in local communities continues to expand, 
local authorities say.

"Overall, I believe that heroin is having an effect in Jackson County 
because it is not just about recreational drug use. It is about a 
drug that many times takes lives because people buying and using the 
heroin don't know exactly what they are putting into their body," 
Jackson County Sheriff's Department Capt. Tim Nichols said.

"It is such an addicting drug that people using it will do just about 
anything to get more."

Jackson County's location on the interstate system between major 
cities such as Chicago and Minneapolis has in part contributed to an 
increase in heroin trafficking in the local area. Nichols, who heads 
the sheriff's department's investigations division, said heroin is at 
its highest levels in the county in at least the past 10 years.

"There was a day here in Jackson County when our biggest concern was 
marijuana, and then you saw the tide of methamphetamine became a real 
concern," said Pat LaBarbera, interim chief of the Black River Falls 
Police Department who also previously worked at the sheriff's 
department. "Now you see a trend of evolving to heroin."

Making drug-related arrests takes considerable investigative time 
that sometimes is difficult to find in departments that have small 
staffs. Focusing on thwarting the dealers - and subsequently cutting 
off supply - can significantly reduce the amount of heroin in the 
community, but it's work that requires substantial time, Nichols said.

"Based on my everyday job and the investigations for narcotics that 
we do, our main concern is the heroin along with the meth in the 
area," he said. "Any investigation takes time and the right 
information from the right people for us to focus on the bigger 
players in the sales of heroin and meth - the dealers. The dealers 
are important ones to focus on because it's all about supply and 
demand. Taking one or two of the major or primary dealers out of a 
community can reduce the supply at least for a short time.

"By being persistent and arresting dealer after dealer ultimately 
shows that we don't stop at just one," he said.The sheriff's 
department's K-9 unit also has been an invaluable tool in heroin and 
overall drug enforcement as a deterrent and a way to make arrests 
that may not otherwise occur. It's particularly helpful in traffic 
stops and in residences or other buildings where narcotics are hidden.

"Just like having an extra deputy on scene as an extra set of eyes, 
the K-9 is highly trained and can detect smells that most of the time 
even a highly trained deputy or officer cannot," Nichols said. 
"Deputy (Adam) Olson does a great job with (K-9) Sonny as have all 
the past K-9 deputies with their dogs with this agency."Within the 
past year Black River Falls EMS started participating in a statewide 
program to allow basic-level EMTs administer Narcan, a medication 
that can reverse the effects of opiate overdoses. BRF EMS has used 
the antidote four times during calls since early 2014 when the program began.

The Jackson County Treatment Court has experienced success in 
treating people addicted to heroin, but the work requires intensive 
supervision, treatment and programming. The treatment court, however, 
has been placed on hold for after its treatment provider opted to no 
longer provide its services.

"Now that we are without a local provider for those AODA and 
addiction-focused mental health services, I am very concerned that we 
will regress and wind up incarcerating more people who could get 
better in the community if those services were available," Jackson 
County District Attorney Gerald Fox said.

The issues with heroin use, addiction and dealing continue to spread 
beyond just those directly involved with the drug, authorities say. 
The persistent need for addicts and dealers to acquire more heroin 
and the money required have been linked to increases in property 
crimes, such as theft and burglary, a trend seen by both the 
sheriff's department and the BRF Police Department.

It affects social relationships and also contributes to child 
protection cases, Fox said.

"Despite all I've learned and seen doing this job, I am still left 
wondering how bad your life has to be that it sounds like a good idea 
to shoot drugs into your arm or up your nose when the signs are all 
around that it will either kill you or leave you homeless, or worse, 
friendless, and that you might also go to prison," he said.

"These cases we have where mothers neglect their kids while they get 
high just tear your heart out."

There have been increased reports of finding used needles in local 
communities, including downtown Black River Falls and in parks in 
Hixton. While they aren't consistently tested for what particular 
drug was used, the issue may be connected to the rise and presence of heroin.

Authorities also note there sometimes is an impression in Jackson 
County that heroin - and overall drug issues - are a "Black River" 
problem. But the impact is wide ranging and can be seen across the 
county, said BRF Police Officer Andy Noack, a Jackson County native 
who grew up in Alma Center.

"(Jackson County) has graduated to the same big city problems that 
big cities are facing," he said. "You can't deny that any longer."

The issue with heroin also has drawn the attention of community 
members outside law enforcement, including a new group formed late 
last year that's designed to be a regional force for support, 
information and awareness about the drug's impact in Jackson County.

The group, formed with help from the mother of the victim of a heroin 
overdose, plans to collaborate with law enforcement agencies in 
Jackson County as it builds its awareness programming.

"I have been able to meet with the folks from The SHELBY Project 
recently and we are forming a sort of partnership. I am really 
looking forward to working with them," Nichols said. "We are looking 
at really just getting information out to the public on the rise of 
heroin in the area and to raise the level of awareness.

"Hopefully that awareness will help families and friends who might 
know someone that is fighting addiction. I think they have some 
really great ideas and the sheriff's office wants to try to help out 
where we can with getting those ideas off the ground."
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