With law enforcement focused on attacking heroin, methamphetamine has made a comeback in Sauk County.
“It all goes up and down,” said Sauk County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Eric Miller, a member of the Sauk County Drug Task Force. “It’s whatever is easiest to get.”
Plus, a countywide crackdown on opioids like heroin and prescription pills – putting dealers behind bars and putting the clamps on supply — prompted drug users to find a new favorite.
“Meth is coming back more and more,” Baraboo Police Chief Mark Schauf said in a report to the City Council’s Public Safety Committee Jan. 30.
A few days later, Baraboo police allegedly found meth after a low-speed chase. After spotting a suspect with an active warrant for meth possession, officers took him into custody and found more than 7 grams of meth in his vehicle.
In early December, officers with the task force raided a Baraboo home and allegedly found more than 100 grams of meth. About a week later, officers getting help from confidential informants arrested four people for dealing meth from a West Baraboo apartment.
Last week, Attorney General Brad Schimel told the Legislature’s criminal justice committees that meth use in Wisconsin has grown at a staggering rate. According to a report Schimel presented, use increased between 250 percent and 300 percent from 2011 to 2015. The state crime lab saw a 349 percent increase in meth cases during that span; heroin cases the lab analyzed rose by 97 percent over that same period, the report found.
“While public safety officials, health care personnel, and policy makers have been courageously battling opiate addiction, it’s time we begin fighting on a second front: methamphetamine use,” Schimel said.
Sauk County task force officers said the drugs’ popularity is cyclical. Two years ago, they saw an increase in heroin. Two years before that, cocaine and crack were prevalent.
“It’s not like heroin went away. It’s not like cocaine goes away, either,” Miller said.
Factors in uptick
Economic forces such as supply and cost play a role, but other factors are bringing meth back. One is that, unlike heroin, meth doesn’t pose the threat of fatal overdose. A year ago, authorities warned that a bad batch of heroin was causing a series of overdoses.
Plus, some addicts use meth when they can’t use opioids. Those undergoing treatment take a monthly shot that blocks the effects of heroin: Even if they relapse, they can’t get high. That is, unless they switch to meth.
Meth took a back seat when drug stores set limits on the sale of Sudafed and other products containing pseudoephedrine. Meth labs disappeared, and law enforcement’s “cleanup teams” had nothing to do.
“That cut things down to almost nothing,” Miller said.
At the same time, doctors responded to authorities’ call to more carefully restrict the prescriptions they write for potentially addictive pills.
“They realize the issue is there, and they’re trying to help resolve it,” said Baraboo Police Detective Sgt. Jordan Gilbert, another member of the task force.
Authorities suspect some of the crystal meth is coming from Mexico, via Madison and La Crosse. Locally, manufacturers are using a “one pot” method that still requires pseudoephedrine, but less of it.
“It’s not that hard to get,” Miller said. “All we can do is keep working at it.”
The attorney general told lawmakers he plans to use money the Justice Department has won in legal settlements to launch a meth awareness campaign similar to his “Dose of Reality” opioid awareness effort. He added that the state has secured a $1.5 million federal grant he plans to use to help fund local drug task forces, reimburse sheriff’s departments for overtime and hire another state crime lab analyst.
Public can help
Sauk County’s task force, which is comprised of officers from multiple Sauk County law enforcement agencies and the Wisconsin State Patrol, welcomes help from the public in rooting out drug activity.
Speaking out can benefit citizens personally, as those closest to addicts often are robbed for drug money. “Most of the property crimes we see are associated with drug addiction,” Gilbert said.
Authorities’ advice is to lock up valuables inside homes and cars, and secure prescription drugs when entertaining visitors. They also ask citizens to report suspicious activity.
“If you see a problem, say something,” Miller said.