More than 60 people packed into the council chambers at Marinette City Hall Friday to learn and share information about the local heroin problem in Marinette and Menominee. The forum also drew several state officials and representatives from various state agencies that deal with drug addictions. EagleHerald/Mike Desotell
More than 60 people packed into the council chambers at Marinette City Hall Friday to learn and share information about the local heroin problem in Marinette and Menominee. The forum also drew several state officials and representatives from various state agencies that deal with drug addictions. EagleHerald/Mike Desotell
MARINETTE - More than 60 community leaders gathered at Marinette City Hall Friday morning for a forum on heroin use and trafficking in the area. Business leaders, law enforcement officials and members of service organizations packed the council chambers to hear from state and local experts.

Representatives from the Wisconsin Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Department of Justice, Wisconsin Community Health Alliance, and others were on hand to listen to the needs of the community.

The brunt of the local presentation was made by Marinette Police Sgt. Scott Ries, an 18-year veteran of the department. Ries presented stories from the front lines of the heroin trade in the twin cities.

"We have some very addicted people in the community and they'll do a lot of crazy things for it," he said. "You can buy it in Chicago for $10 and sell it for $50 up here. There's a lot of money to be made on a three-hour trip when you have no job, you have no life and you have nothing better to do than drive to Chicago and back."

Stopping the sale and use of heroin is very ambitious considering the number of police officers available compared to the number of sellers and users in the community. However, a joint drug task force between Marinette and Menominee, state grant money and community support has gone a long way toward putting a crimp in it.

Recent success stories include the Drunk Driving Task Force, which has been deployed 12 times. Officers have made 509 stops with 17 arrests for illegal drugs. Meanwhile, the Drug Task Force has made 327 stops with 18 arrests for narcotics.

Ries said a week after the first drug stops, dealers were afraid to sell on the streets. And although many motorists were stopped, the effort drew praise from the community.

"Even one of our drug officers got stopped," he said. "He was in an unmarked car working the grant and got stopped by a Michigan cop. Everybody got stopped."

It's somewhat difficult to put exact numbers on just how pervasive heroin use is in the local communities because not everyone who sells or uses gets caught. Not only that, but autopsy results don't necessarily indicate that an illegal drug was to blame, even though it may have been a factor. There were four reported fatal heroin overdoses in Menominee in 2012, one so far this year. In Marinette there were six fatal heroin deaths last year and two so far in 2013.

Last year, Bay Area Medical Center in Marinette reported 127 patients had been diagnosed with an overdose condition.

Heroin use is also impacting schools and the workplace. Area employers said last year at least 9 percent of all employees who took a pre-employment urine test, showed positive for drugs. There's also been an increase in prescription drug use in schools. In addition, school officials are also finding themselves dealing with parents who have drug/alcohol dependency.

"Let me tell you, parents still think their kids aren't drinking. So how in the heck are we going to get them to talk about heroin with their kids?" asked Dorothy Chaney, President, Wisconsin Community Health Alliance.

"If this community takes the effort to say we're going to treat this as an epidemic, we are going to get to every parent, we are going to get to every social service agency, we are going to get to every employer, we are going to get to every school, we are going to relieve law enforcement who have been talking until they are blue in the face to every group they can find but they don't have the tools in their tool box to say, here's what you do after I leave."

Marinette County Circuit Court Judge James Morrison agreed and acknowledged that local police and prosecutors have done a superb job of bringing those problems to the court.

"The problem is, we don't have a tool to deal with when we get heroin addicted people," he said. "As I understand it, from my experience... this is not your ordinary kind of drug. This makes people totally change their personalities, totally change what they do in life and we have not seen any successful treatment program. If there's a there's treatment program out there, please tell us."

Other than an emergency room, the closest treatment center for heroin is located in Green Bay. Marinette County Health and Human Services can help, but there is a waiting period of four weeks or more because there's not enough staffing to meet the need.

Marinette County Sheriff Jerry Sauve pledged that as long as he had anything to say about keeping heroin off the streets he would do everything in his power to make it happen.

"We're going to continue to have someone coordinating intelligence and continue doing what we're doing out here," he said. "When we have young girls that are willing to prostitute themselves, for the sake of getting some more dope, we've got a real problem here."

The effort to fight the local heroin epidemic is ongoing. State officials are expected to be back within two months, possibly with a plan of action for continuing the fight against the deadly drug.