In the wake of several recent drug-trafficking raids and amid ongoing drug-related cases filed each week in Vilas County Circuit Court, the Vilas County Sheriff’s Department and Health Department recently hosted a community town hall meeting to raise awareness and increase education regarding increasing trends.

“Drug abuse and overdoses have a devastating impact on individuals, families, and communities,” Vilas County Health Department health coordinator Tammi Boers noted. “Drug addiction is a serious illness that affects people from all walks of life.”

According to recent state statistics, the number of Wisconsin citizens who die of drug-related overdoses is now higher than the number of those who die due to motor vehicle crashes, suicide, breast or colon cancer, firearms, influenza or HIV. 

“It’s just a scary reality that we’re dealing with in our own little community,” Eagle River Police Department’s Mark Collins said. “With addiction, it takes over complete control, over entire lives.”

The age-adjusted rates of drug overdose deaths increased 72% from 2007 to 2016. Both illegal and prescription drug deaths are factors in this epidemic.

Drug overdose deaths increased 72% from just 2007 to 2016, which included both illegal and legal prescription drugs. 

“If you don’t get help, it’s going to be the end of you,” Collins observed. 

Also giving information at the event were detective Emily Miller from the Vilas County Sheriff’s Department and TJ Bill from the Lac du Flambeau Tribal Police. 

The trends they discussed were not just in Vilas County — but everywhere, they said.

“All controlled substances have the potential for abuse,” Collins said, indicating the hook is both physical and psychological. 

Highly common is that drug abuse — from the first attempt — starts in youth. Some 48% will experiment before leaving high school, the presenters stated. The effect can be detrimental, especially on a young, developing brain, they said. 

“Drugs don’t discriminate,” Miller said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re white collar, or what age you are. Teens, 20s, into 50s and 60s.” 



E-Cigarettes

E-cigarettes have resulted in nearly a 40% increase in tobacco use — primarily driven by the vaping trend. Vape devices can be more harmful than cigarettes, however, as many contain as much tobacco as three packs of cigarettes or as many as 20 cigarettes in one cartridge, it was noted. 

Others contain THC — pure in form, a fatal dose can be taken in. 

Because many are in easy-to-conceal forms, such as those which look like water bottles or USB ports, they can be hard to detect in a child’s bedroom or school locker and therefore harder to treat the individual potentially abusing it.



Controlled substances 

Narcotics, anabolic steroids, depressants and stimulants all have the threat of addiction — both physically and mentally, despite that so many are obtained legally.

“Overdoses are not uncommon, and can be fatal,” Collins said. 

Many of these substances are prescription, and therefore are not illicit when prescribed for certain medical conditions or recoveries. If not used properly or not disposed of correctly, the person with the prescription or someone who gets a hold of them could suffer addiction consequences. 



Meth

One of the more common drugs being made, sold and taken in the area in recent years is methamphetamine. It is often made at home laboratories and is highly chemical, toxic and addicting. 

“Long term users …have no control over it. Tell me that’s not a problem,” Collins said.

Abusers of meth often lose 20 to 40 pounds and due to psychological issues with itching, pick sores and wounds all over their own bodies. Users have shocking changes to appearances in very short periods of times — months to years, it was indicated. 

Residences needing to be cleaned up post-meth labs can cost up to $20,000 or more, it was noted. 



Heroin 

“It can take just one time to use, to get addicted,” Collins said of heroin. 

The street drug is becoming more prevalent as it is often cheaper and easier to obtain that prescription drugs or meth.



Alcohol

“Alcohol is the number one most abused substance,” Collins said, most likely as it is so easy to obtain and also socially acceptable. “More people are in treatment (for alcohol) than any other substance … by the time you realize you have a problem, it’s too late.”

More than half of the general population has experienced addiction to alcohol. By comparison, 9% become hooked on meth, 7% to prescription drugs and 5% to heroin and/or cocaine. 

“The most sought after treatment, is for alcohol,” Collins said. 



Hallucinogens/designer drugs

Hallucinogens include acid, LSD, mushrooms and ecstasy. 

It can be easy to overdose on these substances, or injure oneself, it was said. 

Bath salts — a designer drug — can often lead to seizures leading to death and injury. Because they look like candy or some other attractive item, they can be misleading.



Marijuana

With marijuana becoming medically legal in some states, acceptance is becoming more widespread. 

“You can overdose on marijuana,” Miller said. 

Medical and street marijuana are different strains, grown and treated differently, Miller pointed out. 

With edibles, she added, it can take longer to hit the system so people will take more thinking it’s not having an effect. Due to that, overdose can be common. 



Inhalants

“This is stuff we find around the home,” Collins said.

Air freshener, dust-off, felt tip pens, gas and butane are a few examples.

“The problem with these, is they’re extremely dangerous,” Collins observed. 

People inhale the fumes off the items, resulting in a “high.” The result can damage the brain or even lead to death.

Collins relayed a sudden “sniffing death” from several years ago where a 14-year-old boy huffed gas fumes in his home garage and died right in Vilas County.  

“This is how things start. It’s just out of curiosity,” Collins explained. “They see their friends doing it.”



Impact to community 

Law enforcement and emergency service responders now all carry several doses of Narcan on themselves — not just to administer to those who they are responding to have overdosed, but to themselves. Just a small amount of many drugs, when inhaled accidentally, can be fatal, Collins said. 

“This is a common occurrence all across the U.S.,” Collins said. “Law enforcement and first responders come in contact with these drugs … just two to three milligrams can be enough to cause respiratory arrest.”

The drug impact to communities is a huge and expensive one, it was indicated. 

“It’s a multibillion dollar industry,” Collins said. 

Confiscated at the border often are hundreds of pounds of meth and fentanyl coming into the country. 

“It’s pretty bad,” Miller said, the issue compounded by the fact drugs are so easy to obtain. “A drug deal is just a text or call away.” 

In the Northwoods, the impact is often seen on the breakup of families, property crimes and thefts. 

When questioned by audience members how to battle the ongoing issue, the members of law enforcement encouraged community members to report what’s unusual in the community.

“Lots of complaints and investigations start with just one person saying, ‘Something weird is going on,’” Collins noted. 

“Just be aware,” Bill said. “Let us know. A lot of our information comes from you.” 

Collins pointed out many resources are available in communities for recovery. Reaching out to a local hospital or health department is an excellent start. 

“Instead of arrests, let’s try to get them help,” Collins stated. “Intervention is out there.”