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Man's Fatal Overdose Prompts Warnings of Heroin Rise

A 22-year-old Brookfield man found dead from an apparent drug overdose is one of several recent drug deaths in the county, experts say.

  • Update: Followup for parents on protecting their children from drug abuse

A 22-year-old Brookfield man's fatal drug overdose — possibly from heroin — has law enforcement and drug counselors warning parents that prescription drug and heroin use is on the rise.

"There have been four very recent overdose deaths that we're aware of," said Claudia Roska, executive director of the Addiction Resource Council in Waukesha. "I'm not sure that everyone was in Waukesha County but very close."

Roska said in her 24 years with the council, "this is the first time I've seen this much heroin use in Waukesha County."

Brookfield Police Capt. Jim Adlam said, "It's making a comeback and it's very scary. Once you're addicted, it's hard to get off of it.

"It's evil," he said.

A Brookfield couple called 911 about 7:30 a.m. Friday after finding their son, 22, dead in his bedroom from an apparent overdose. The devastated family is struggling to cope, police said. They chose to not have a public death notice or obituary, and quietly buried him in a private ceremony Tuesday, a man at their home said Wednesday.

Court records show the young man struggled with drug use for years, getting arrested for marijuana and Ecstasy, undergoing treatment and spending time in jail. But he also was praised in letters to a judge as a loving, caring man who would give anything to his relatives, and who looked out for his sister.

"We hear from at least two, maybe three families a week who have a person actively using in their family," Roska said, referring to heroin and opiates. "Some come in and get treatment for themselves."

Heroin users also appear to be getting younger, with the majority being in their 20s, she said.

The Waukesha County Medical Examiners office has ruled two deaths from January to May as heroin overdoses. But the office has many other cases still awaiting toxicology results and other investigations, an employee said.

There were five fatal heroin overdoses in 2010, three in 2009 and seven in 2008, according to the Medical Examiners office.

But those numbers don't tell the whole story.

They belie the fact that many more deadly overdoses are averted with the use of Naloxone (Narcan is one brand name), said Waukesha County Sheriff's Capt. Chuck Wood, commander of countywide Metro Drug Unit that includes police officers from Brookfield.

The AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin distributes Naloxone to addicts after they undergo training at the center on how to use the drug to reverse a heroin or opiate overdose and restore breathing, said Bill Keeton, the center's director of communications. Heroin suppresses systems, causing users to fall asleep, lose consciousness and stop breathing, Roska said.

"It (Naloxone) will bring them back within minutes," said Adlam of Brookfield police.

The AIDS Resource Center also runs a needle exchange program, distributing free clean syringes and cotton balls to addicts who bring in dirty needles, in an effort to prevent the spread of AIDS and hepatitis and death, Keeton said. 

Wood said he checks with the AIDS Resource Center to help determine the extent of drug activity in the county.

"They are giving out thousands of needles in Waukesha County," Wood said. "And last year they passed the million needle mark."

Keeton said the million figure was statewide, with clean needles sometimes driven to users who live miles from any of the center's numerous statewide mobile offices. The center also provides alcohol and drug abuse treatment and counseling resources.

On July 13, a multi-jurisdictional drug unit in the Oshkosh area announced that its yearlong investigation of heroin and cocaine distribution netted nearly 20 pounds of heroin and 13 pounds of crack cocaine, as well as 35 arrests.

In Winnebago County this year there have been 21 overdose deaths, although it was unclear how many involved heroin.

In Waukesha County, the amount of heroin seized has risen in recent years, from virtually none in 2007 (0.10 of a gram) to 166.30 grams in 2008 and 199.74 grams in 2009 before slipping a bit to 115.1 grams in 2010, according to the Waukesha County Metro Drug Unit.

So why the rise? 

Experts said it appears that teenagers and adults are getting offered prescription drugs and pain killers — Vicodin, Suboxin and Oxycontin — in social settings to get high. Because the pills are professionally stamped and prescribed, there's a false belief they're safe.

"For some people, they take them and it's no big deal," Wood said. "For other people, they say, 'I like this high. I want to keep this high.' It can be a sort of addictive personality and they want more of these."

The problem is pain killers are expensive.

An 80-milligram pill might cost $80. Need two a day and it's a $160-a-day habit.

"Someone tells them, 'Hey, listen, try heroin for $20 and you get get more of a high than what you're spending $80 on,'" Wood said.

But that moves users into buying a powder and they have no idea what it contains, Wood and Adlam said.

Heroin purity levels have skyrocketed, putting more people at risk of fatal overdoses, Wood said.

"You never know what you're getting in it," Adlam said.

Sandra Schultz July 28, 2011 at 02:53 PM
This is a perfect example of why it is so important to lock up medications or to properly dispose of them if you no longer need them or they are expired. Keeping pain medications around "just in case you might need them again" is not a good practice. This creates opportunity for abuse. It is easy to lose track of inactive medication, something that you are not taking daily. Would you notice a missing pill or two? If a bottle of expired medication disappeared you may not even notice. Out of sight out of mind. There are many temptations and motivations, it can be for personal use or for financial gain, selling them to others who may use. You may be confident that your family members would not abuse but keep in mind that visitors to your home also have access. It is not uncommon for someone to use your bathroom and search the area for pills. When surveyed where addicts got their medications most state from family, friends or grandparent's homes. As the article states, RX medications is a stepping stone to greater addiction problems such as heroin. Be proactive, lock up or properly dispose of all medications, prescription AND over the counter.
Lisa Sink July 29, 2011 at 03:42 AM
Great point to stress, Sandra, on the home medicine cabinets. One expert I talked to today said often drug users will head straight to a bathroom of whatever house they're in and rifle through their cabinets, whether it be grandma's house or a stranger.

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