Drug epidemic growing in Shawano, Menominee counties

Problems identified, few solutions offered at roundtable discussion

Leader Photo by Tim Ryan State Attorney General Brad Schimel, center, is flanked by Shawano County Sheriff Adam Bieber and state Rep. Gary Tauchen at a law enforcement roundtable at the sheriff’s department Thursday where drug abuse was the dominant topic.

A multitude of drug abuse-related problems in Shawano and Menominee counties, the extent of which the general public might not be aware, were aired Tuesday morning at a law enforcement roundtable with state Attorney General Brad Schimel.

Solutions to those problems, however, along with resources to deal with them were in short supply.

Schimel has been holding roundtable discussions in counties across the state.

He was joined in a panel discussion at the Shawano County Sheriff’s Department with Sheriff Adam Bieber and state Rep. Gary Tauchen (R-Bonduel).

Attendees included government and law enforcement officials from around Shawano and Menominee counties.

“We’re trying to find out what can we do at the Department of Justice to help,” Schimel said.

He said the state DOJ has already used information garnered in other counties to write applications for federal grant money to help battle the growing methamphetamine epidemic.

Though the roundtable was set up to discuss a variety of law enforcement issues, drug and alcohol abuse were the dominant points of discussion, with particular focus on the burden being placed on human services.

“Many of our families that we work with extensively have significant drug and alcohol issues,” said Rick Kane, Shawano County director of human services. “Their resources are almost always very marginal at best.”

Kane said it is often an inter-generational problem that’s gone on for years, with drug abuse issues being handed down from parents to their children.

“It’s a pervasive problem,” he said.

He said that problem has worsened over the last 20 years.

“The families are much more impaired,” Kane said. “There was no meth problem back then like there is now. There wasn’t the degree of widespread drug abuse.”

Kane said the abuse includes methamphetamine, opioids, heroin and some marijuana.

“It’s a widespread epidemic with multiple drugs,” he said.

Kane said law enforcement and human resources are having to deal with the end result of the drug abuse problem because money is no longer being allocated for prevention.

“There are no prevention programs left. They’re gone,” he said. “There is no funding for prevention at all. All these issues could be addressed much better upfront, with prevention starting in elementary school, but it’s not there.”

Shawano-Menominee County District Attorney Greg Parker said methamphetamine is becoming “the top of our list” when it comes to drug abuse cases.

“Meth cases were rare several years ago, but the county is now seeing two to three a week,” Parker said.

He said the county saw its first meth case involving a juvenile.

“It didn’t surprise me, but it really sickened me,” Parker said.

Parker cited another recent case in which a meth user was directing juvenile to commit burglaries so he could support his drug habit.

The drug abuse numbers are also taking a toll on the Shawano County Jail.

Jail Administrator Greg Trinko said 3-4 percent of jail inmates keep returning to jail with new offenses.

“The drug epidemic that’s sweeping us right now, these same people are coming in, but they’re coming in sicker and sicker and more addicted to drugs,” Trinko said.

Many of the inmates are increasingly arriving in need of medical intervention.

In all of 2016, Trinko said, only 13 arrivals needed medical attention. That spiked in July of last year to 53 cases in that month alone. He said that’s since leveled off to 30 to 35 per month.

“There’s a lot of time and money expended by the county to cover these medical costs,” Trinko said.

One hopeful sign in Thursday’s discussion was the establishment of a Shawano County drug court, which, Parker said, should up up and running by the fall.

Rather than face jail, participants in the drug court will have daily curfews, be subject to random drug tests and be required to go through various treatment programs.

The key to success, however, will be participants who realize their situation and want to be helped.

“Unfortunately, a lot of times we can’t get them to face that reality until we have them in our jail for a while,” Schimel said.

He said the success rate of drug courts nationwide is 54 percent, “but that’s a whole lot better than the success rate of what we’re doing now.”

Bieber said more focus needs to be placed on the societal issues at the root of the problem.

“Government has caused this problem, getting involved in family issues,” Bieber said. “Our core values have changed in the last 15-20 years. I think government is fighting our family values. They’re fighting our Christian values.”

Bieber said in many households both parents are working, with no one to oversee the children.

“We’ve lost our discipline,” he said. “Children have lost respect.”

He also said churches are under attack and that the Ten Commandments have been banned from public schools.

“I really think we, as government officials, should get back to our values,” Bieber said. “Back in the 70s, 80s, 40s, 50s, where one person stays at home.”

Bieber said government is never going to fix the problem.

“Folks are talking about regulating guns, when that’s not going to be the answer,” he said. “How about the (Federal Communications Commission) enforce what’s being put on our television nowadays? Now you hear swear words all the time. The FCC needs to do its job, in my opinion, and regulate that.”