Authorities say heroin increasing its grip locally

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Frank Schultz
Thursday, April 24, 2014

JANESVILLE—Robberies, burglaries, thefts, prostitution and a lot of heartache in Rock County can be traced directly to the growing problem of heroin addiction.

That's what law enforcement officers told officials Thursday at a meeting of the Rock County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

In Janesville alone, the number of heroin overdoses is poised to increase greatly this year.

Janesville saw 16 overdoses in 2012 and 17 in 2013. Already in the first four months of 2014, nine overdoses were recorded, said Sgt. Chad Pearson of the Janesville Police Department Street Crimes Unit.

Not all overdoses are reported.

The sheriff's office special investigations unit could see a doubling of the amount of heroin seized last year, if this year's trend continues, said Rock County sheriff's Sgt. Aaron Burdick.

Prescription opioids easily found in the medicine cabinet—such as Vicodin Percocet and Hydrocodone—are the usual gateway to heroin abuse, Burdick said.

Heroin is cheaper than pills, Burdick explained, so choosing heroin becomes a financial decision for people who are addicted to the pain pills.

Inhaling heroin requires more of the drug than injecting, leading to another money decision.

Once a person starts injecting, “from what we're seeing, they're broken, and they're not coming back from it, sadly,” Burdick said.

The council discussed doctors who over-prescribe pain medications and a lack of treatment options, despite programs at Mercy Options and the Janesville Psychiatric Clinic.

A big obstacle is that heroin addicts often have no money and no insurance.

“The best option right now for a lot of people is just call the police and have them arrested,'” said Deputy Dan Reed of the sheriff's office. “They'll thank you in the end.”

Arrests can lead to treatment programs, Reed said.

Catching people with heroin is tough because tiny amounts are all that's needed to get high, and they are easily hidden. Addicts often buy just a $20 bag. That's about 0.1 gram, or half the size of a pea, officers said.

Pearson said heroin is sold everywhere in Janesville, and its bought by people of all socio-economic groups, both men and women, and all races and ethnicities.

Most users are age 25-30, Pearson said, but a few are under 18, and one local 56-year-old has overdosed.

Heroin is sold in store bathrooms, parking lots, cemeteries and on the streets, “all day, every day,” said Sgt. Dan Tilley of the Beloit police.

On the horizon, Burdick said there's a new threat from Zohydro, an opioid that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration OK'd for use last year. It is five to 10 times more potent than heroin and comes in a capsule that can easily be opened for snorting.

“This is going to be a problem,” Burdick said.

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