Many heroin uses start by abusing prescription painkillers, officials said, but soon their addiction grows to the point where they have no qualms about "cooking" and injecting heroin.

Many heroin uses start by abusing prescription painkillers, officials said, but soon their addiction grows to the point where they have no qualms about “cooking” and injecting heroin.

Heroin creates addicts, destroys communities

Heroin use is seen as a problem for other people’s families, not a problem close to home – until proven otherwise. By then, it’s too late to start talking prevention.

“Most people don’t know what’s going on right under their nose,” said Waterford Town Police Chief Tom Ditscheit, who for years has been actively focused on raising the issue of the dangers of heroin in the community.

Ditscheit has dealt with dozens of heroin addicts in the community.

Their stories have common threads: starting out as a kid experimenting with alcohol and marijuana, then crushing and snorting opiate painkillers stolen from a medicine cabinet, then on to heroin – which gives a feeling of blissful relief and comfort from the aggravations of daily life, and at a much cheaper cost on the street than prescription drugs.

But the real cost to a person and family is enormous.


Heroin logo 1 web fullDestroying communities

Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said that of all the issues he is facing as the county’s top cop, heroin is probably his biggest priority.

“There’s a combination of everything going on,” the sheriff said. “(Heroin) destroys communities, and it fuels other crime.

“If we don’t take a hold of this heroin problem, it’s going to destroy communities,” he added.

He called heroin a “poison” that is ripping apart families.

Officials say addiction to heroin is so strong that users, who are otherwise nice people, turn to crime to get the money they need to get high. They usually start by stealing from family and friends – destroying relationships and alienating those who love them along the way.

When users do hit bottom and agree to get help, relapse is common – between 90-95 percent for heroin addicts coming off their first stint in rehab, according to Dr. David Galbis-Reig, an addiction specialist with Wheaton Franciscan Health Care in Racine. Even after four or five trips to rehab upwards of half the users return to heroin.


How it starts

The first time someone uses heroin, they experience an elevated high – a warm, relaxed feeling juxtaposed to the euphoric, high-energy high of other drugs like co-caine, according to Walworth County Drug Unit Sgt. Jeff Patek. The next time they use, they’re unable to achieve the same high, so they increase the amount they use in an attempt to reach that high, he said.

Because the high is relatively short-lived, users are constantly chasing their next fix – sometimes more than once a day.

“It creates an addiction unlike anything else,” said Dan Necci, Walworth County’s district attorney.

Users keep chasing that high with greater doses of the drug, which is why heroin use results in many over-doses, Patek said.

Necci said overdoses are also seen when a user switches dealers and doesn’t know what they’re putting into their bodies.

“The very prominent death factor,” Necci said, is one of the things that makes heroin more dangerous than other drugs.

“People overdose on it,” he said. “When you’ve gotten to a certain level of addiction, you don’t care anymore.”

Craig C. Ackney, 39, a Burlington native, died last year from a fatal injection of heroin. The person believed to have provided the drug, Stanley A. Bies, 42, of Union Grove, was sentenced in December to seven years in state prison for first-degree reckless homicide in connection with Ackney’s death.


Alarming growth

Statistics kept by the state Department of Justice show just how fast heroin use has exploded in the past five years.

In the period from 2009 to 2013, heroin cases sent to the crime lab shot up from 341 to 1,056 – that’s nearly a 325 percent increase. In Racine County, that number has rocketed from six cases sent to the crime lab in 2008 to 37 cases in 2013. The greatest single-year jump was from 2009 to 2010 when the number of cases went from eight to 20.

In Walworth County the number has rocketed from five in 2009 to 16 in 2013, with a high of 24 in 2012.

While those numbers are alarming, prosecutors say they’re just the tip of the iceberg because most cases are so airtight that they don’t require local officials to send samples to the crime lab.

“Our cases are rock solid when they come to my desk,” Necci said.

However, simply arresting the users will get society nowhere, Schmaling said.

“We can’t arrest our way out of this,” he said.

The goal, he continued, is developing a measured approach that includes rehab and a return to society for the users, and swift and severe penalties for those who supply and sell heroin.

A Burlington man was found with nearly half a pound of heroin – 184 grams, in East Troy on Feb. 19. The amount of the drug Phillip J. Zadurski, 42, had makes the offense a Class C felony punishable by up to 40 years in prison and $100,000 in fines. Zadurski, who also had cocaine, marijuana and prescription drugs in his possession, according to the criminal complaint, is scheduled to go on trial in Walworth County Monday.


One fix at a time

Unlike users of other drugs who buy a supply that will last them awhile, heroin users are typically buying their heroin one fix at a time, Necci said, and then lying, cheating and stealing to get money to buy their next fix. The amount they buy depends on their level of addiction.

The problem is so pervasive and growing so quickly that Schmaling and other Racine County officials hosted a series of “heroin summits” at three different locations in the county this month. The goal is to bring together all facets of the community to combat the drug’s effects with a 360-degree approach.

“That’s the reason why we’ve labeled this the ‘heroin summit,’” Schmaling added. Schmaling wants people to know this problem is more than just a passing trend. Heroin, he said, is a large, extended, multi-faceted problem.

“(We’re doing this) in hopes of detouring somebody from ever even using the drug,” he said. “And for those who are on it, we have information on how to get off it.”

Schmaling said the problem is so big, that many people don’t know where to start in terms of finding help. In relaying the story of one parent, Schmaling said the mother found out on a weekend – and didn’t know whether to call the police, call 911 or take her son to the hospital.

“At that point, I realized we needed to do something,” he explained.

This story was compiled and written by Southern Lakes Newspaper editors Ed Nadolski, Patricia Bogumil, Jennifer Eisenbart and Vicky Wedig.