Investigation and education
By Eileen Persike
In a period of nine years, opioid related deaths in Wisconsin increased 64 percent. In that same period – from 2005 to 2014, deaths from heroin increased by more than 734 percent statewide. A recently released report outlined the results of an opioid survey, taken by 68 local health jurisdictions in Wisconsin.
A local drug task force has been selected by the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation to receive a national anti-heroin task force program grant.
“The grant is very important to NORDEG (Northcentral Drug Enforcement Group),” said Oneida County Chief Deputy Dan Hess. “The number of [heroin] cases in our seven-county region has increased dramatically.”
The grant, $26,000 per year for two years, will be reimbursement for overtime hours spent on conducting heroin and opioid investigations. In a letter to Oneida County Sheriff Grady Hartman, Wisconsin Attorney General, Brad Schimel wrote, “As we are all aware, opiate and heroin abuse has devastated our state’s communities and many law enforcement agencies struggle with providing resources to this issue.”
In addition to law enforcement efforts, Ministry Health psychiatrist and addiction specialist, Dr. Mandeep Singh said education is a necessary element in the fight against opioids.
“The patient needs education; they have to understand that the pain pills they may be prescribed are dangerous,” said Singh. “And doctors have to assess the risk of addiction before prescribing.”
According to Singh, there is a certain percentage of the population that may be predisposed biologically, psychologically or socially to addiction or may be mentally ill. “The patient should be honest with their doctor,” about addiction problems they may have faced in the past, he added.
“It’s a very complex situation,” Singh said. “Doctors want to make their patients feel better when they are in pain, so they prescribe a pain killer like vicodin. Next time, if the person is feeling down, they may equate that pill with feeling better and they seek more.”
And, he added, in the elderly population it becomes difficult to differentiate between arthritis, for example, and anxiety or depression. The local health department survey shows that 6.08 percent of Oneida County Medicare part D claims filed in 2013 were for opioids. In Vilas County, that number is 6.63 percent; both are above the state average of just over 5 percent. It wouldn’t be unusual for rural areas, like the Northwoods, to have higher numbers of pain killer addicts than similar populations in cities.
“Cities have a system to catch these issues,” Dr. Singh said. “They are ahead of the curve. There is a lack of education and a lack of providers and treatment programs in our area.”
NORDEG will also be tracking specific measures including the number of heroin/opioid investigations opened, number of search warrants served in heroin and opioid-related investigations, number of arrests and amount of drugs submitted to the crime lab to support prosecution.