Rock County law enforcement fights heroin dealers

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Anna Marie Lux
Sunday, May 4, 2014

JANESVILLE--Rock County Sheriff Robert Spoden recalls the first time in 2006 that law enforcement began seeing heroin overdoses.

“I remember calling a command-staff meeting because we had three overdoses in one weekend,” he said. “That's when we rammed up our enforcement efforts ... It has been a battle ever since.”

He called heroin a Rock County health crisis that will take the whole community to stop.

“Law enforcement cannot do this alone,” Spoden said. “Our schools, our parents and the medical community have to work together to make a dent in this.”

He encourages frank discussions with young people early.

“We have to engage in who they are spending time with and where they are going,” Spoden said. “I would tell parents that it is much easier to intervene before children get addicted.  Once addicted, the physical pain of withdrawal itself makes it so difficult to break. I talked with one user who said his hair hurt at one point when he was trying to come down from heroin.”

As a father, Spoden said the highly addictive drug that can be smoked, sniffed or injected directly into the bloodstream “scares the heck out of me.”

“I have two boys, ages 15 and 19,” he said. “I'm concerned for them. You think you have educated them. But at the same time, you have to be proactive and look for signs. Are your children becoming withdrawn? What kind of crowd are they with? What are they doing when they leave the house? Heroin users exist in their own secretive culture.”

Law enforcement is fighting the drug by trying to make the distribution of heroin difficult, Spoden said. In 2012, the sheriff's office reported seizing 92.5 grams of heroin, enough for 925 doses. Last year, it took 65 grams off the street.

“We are trying to make it as hard as we can for dealers to come here and sell it,” Spoden said. “We get funding from the federal government and use it to fight drug trafficking, primarily heroin.”

He said the public needs to be warned about the dangers of heroin.

“The heroin you buy today may be more potent than the heroin you got last week,” Spoden said. “That is what leads to overdoses. The latest trend in heroin is black tar, which is much more potent and much more dangerous.”

Street heroin looks gray to dark brown or black and can have a tar-like consistency because dealers cut the drug with other substances, including Benadryl, sugar and quinine. The additives make it impossible for users to know the strength of a dose. That makes every hit a huge risk, law enforcement officers warn.

Once heroin was considered a big-city problem. Today, the opiate reaches into all counties of Wisconsin and across all social lines, from rich to poor. The numbers have risen so much that the Wisconsin Justice Department calls heroin use in the state an epidemic.

Locally, Rock County is committed to the fight, Spoden said.

“Are we winning the war?” he asked. “Right now, it is a draw. There's more we need to do in the areas of treatment and education. We will continue to focus on enforcement. Because of Rock County's location along the Interstate and because we are so close to Chicago, we are attractive to drug dealers.

“There are a lot of broken hearts in this county," Spoden said. "We can't keep losing our children to this poison.”

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