Sheriff candidate proposes heroin summit

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Frank Schultz
Monday, May 12, 2014

JANESVILLE—A candidate for sheriff is proposing a heroin summit for Rock County. The sheriff questions whether such an important issue should be part of a political campaign.

Gary Groelle, a captain at the Rock County Sheriff's Office, proposed the summit in a campaign news release Monday. Groelle is running as a Democrat and will face his boss, Sheriff Robert Spoden, in the Aug. 12 primary.

No other candidate has announced for the office.

Groelle said he and others who recently attended the National Prescription Drug Abuse Summit in Atlanta have agreed to organize a summit to discuss what appears to be a growing problem of overdoses, deaths and ruined lives.

“I'm not pointing fingers at anybody. I'm just advocating for collaboration and bringing more people to the table who can problem-solve the issue,” Groelle said.

Spoden said if Groelle wants to be involved, he could have brought the issue to Spoden's command staff meeting last Tuesday.

“Obviously this is something political that he's doing, and as a candidate he's welcome to do that. … As long as he represents himself as citizen Groelle, he is free to do whatever he wants,” Spoden said.

“It's not like people are just sticking our heads in the sand. All of us are concerned about it. It's just a matter of what's the proper course,” Spoden added.

Groelle said the proposed summit is part of his campaign.

“It is part of my platform. It's going to be part of my proposal to change things in my administration, if I am fortunate enough to get in,” Groelle said.

Spoden pointed out that heroin has been a topic for the county's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which includes a judge, the district attorney, the sheriff's office, other county law enforcement agencies and others. The council plans an upcoming meeting to discuss treatment, which some say is lacking in the county.

Groelle said more people should be at the table, including doctors and treatment providers.

Groelle said the group organizing the summit includes two members of the county mental health staff, a Mercy Health System social worker, a Janesville police officer and Sarah Johnson from Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change, an anti-drug/alcohol abuse group.

Judges, schools and law enforcement, including the sheriff's office, should be represented at the summit, Groelle said. No invitations have been sent, and no date has been set.

“The goal is to bring together community leaders to strategically plan more effective, evidence-based approaches to tackle the heroin problem that has been increasingly damaging the lives of the families and children who reside in Rock County and draining resources throughout the area,” Groelle said in his news release.

“I think it's a very serious issue. I'm glad to see the media is looking at it that way, too. At least, it appears they are. I think there is more we can be doing,” Groelle said.

The Gazette on Sunday endorsed the idea of a community summit on heroin, noting that in a recent Gazette story Judge Richard Werner called for more discussion about heroin addiction in the county.

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