By Jennifer Eisenbart


As attendees made their way into the Racine County Heroin Summit Oct. 26 at Union Grove Union High School, they were greeted with stories of loss.

The videos, taken from, shared the stories of parents whose children had stolen from them and from friends and neighbors – all to fuel a heroin addiction.

They also told the stories of parents who found their children dead after a heroin overdose, including a woman who lost two sons, one after the other.

“This is an addiction that knows no boundaries,” Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave said. “It is a slippery slope.”

The summit featured a variety of speakers from around Racine County, including Sheriff Christopher Schmaling, Medical Examiner Michael Payne and addiction specialist Dr. David Galbis-Reig.

The event drew 150 visitors to Union Grove’s performing arts center, and Schmaling estimated more than 400 people accessed the live web stream of the summit. Parents and children in attendance got an information kit – including resources to contact if a person has an addiction – and could take a free drug-testing kit, no questions or names asked.

Schmaling and Racine County have been doing the summits over the past three years in order to address the growing problem. Many people are still struggling to understand that the drug – once rare and expensive and confined to cities – has become cheap and plentiful … and popular.

“It’s become a rural problem,” Galbis-Reig said, adding that it’s a bigger problem now in smaller communities than in cities.

The speakers at the event covered everything from the start of an addiction – teens taking pain medication left over from a relative’s surgery – to the end result of felony charges, jail and death.

Racine County District Attorney Rich Chiapete said, “Information is power.”

“This is how we fix it,” Chiapete explained, “talking together and working together.”

An addiction can start with a pain pill, but often grows quickly, the speakers said. While a pill of oxycodone may sell for $90 on the street, it costs just $10 to $20 for a two- to four-hour high from heroin.

As an addiction grows, the habit becomes more and more expensive. Children – and adults – start with pills for any number of reasons, but the end result is addiction. And heroin, which used to have a purity rate of about 10 percent, is now as high as 93 percent. Worse, drug dealers are cutting it with other drugs that could exacerbate the high, or create as overdose.

The costs of the drug have also grown beyond just the emotional pain and the cost of the drugs. Payne said every drug-related death has to have an investigation, costing about $2,000 each. That doesn’t address the costs of funerals, law enforcement, and the loss of family.

It also doesn’t cover the cost of jail, which is where many addicts end up because other options have failed, Judge Eugene A. Gasiorkiewicz said.

“Nothing good happens in my courtroom,” he explained. “I take no pleasure in sending people to prison.

“I am putting you in prison so I can save your life,” he added, a comment he said he is often telling addicts.

Treatment is available through private insurance and through the county. However, a new statistic shows that it takes an average of nine trips through rehabilitation before an addict kicks the addiction.

Even if the addiction is addressed and stopped, one relapse can prove fatal. Racine County Prosecutor Tricia Hanson’s cousin, Nick, managed to get free of the habit only to try the drug again. His tolerance had decreased, and he ended up overdosing at a halfway house.

Her reason for speaking at the summits and sharing Nick’s story is simple: she needs to know he hasn’t died in vain.

“Because the end of his life was so difficult for us,” she said.

Schmaling made it clear that Nick’s story wasn’t unusual, as did videos.

“I’m here to tell you this happens right here in our community,” he said.

The Racine Crisis Hotline can be reached by calling (262) 638-6741. Many heroin addicts will require inpatient or residential treatment to overcome their addiction. Below is a list of the treatment centers that offer such services in southeast Wisconsin:

  • Mt. Zion House – offers two residential options: for men, 2330 Highway 120 in Lake Geneva, (262) 249-8934; for women, 428 E. Geneva St. in Elkhorn, (262) 379-1215;
  • Roger’s Memorial Hospital: Herrington Recovery Center, 34700 Valley Rd., Oconomowoc. Phone: (800) 767-4411;
  • Rosencrans: based in Rockford, Ill., but offers various locations for treatment options, (815) 391-1000.
  • Genesis Behavioral Services (offering detox services only, following local hospital emergency room visits), 1218 W. Highland Blvd., Milwaukee.