The FBI says heroin abuse seems to getting worse in Wisconsin as abusers seek a cheaper alternative to prescription pills such as Vicodin and Percocet.
Law enforcement officials have seen a spike in heroin usage since about 2008. Because of reporting variations around the state, it's been hard to quantify just how bad the problem is, so the FBI conducted a yearlong analysis.
The agency made its report made available Tuesday, and said the observations are based largely on anecdotal data because hard statistics aren't readily available.
The Wisconsin Heroin Assessment concluded the increase in heroin use is likely to continue. In addition, the use is likely driven by the increased use of prescription pills while heroin is cheaper than those medications.
The FBI says heroin apparently arrives in Wisconsin by way of Minneapolis, Chicago and Rockford, Illinois. One hit costs $12 to $15 in Milwaukee and about twice that, due to supply and demand, in the Green Bay area.
The report suggests heroin is difficult to detect compared to other drugs because it is transported, stored, and sold in smaller quantities. Findings also link the increase in property crimes and theft in rural areas to a surge in heroin use.
The FBI also mentions Narcan, a drug used to prevent overdoses and death. According to the report, Narcan was used more than 9,000 times between 2011 and 2012. The study suggests while the measure is meant to prevent overdoses, the ability of a drug user to be revived from an overdose allows them to continue to use heroin and “the aggregate use of heroin statewide”.
The study also points to needle exchange programs, noting that while the purpose of the programs are to reduce the risk of disease, users may use the paraphernalia to inject heroin.
Brad Dunlap works as a special agent in charge with the Department of Justice and the Division of Criminal Investigation.
“I've been in this job for 23 years. I have not seen a drug that has the death, the potential for death like heroin does,” Dunlap said. “There is no other drug that can compare to it.”
Dunlap participated in the report and said he agrees with most of the findings. He said it will take a multi-agency approach to solve the problems the state faces when it comes to heroin.
“The core issues are the same in Madison, Milwaukee and Green Bay,” Dunlap explained. “It really transcends geography when it comes to how to address the problem.”
Skye Tikkanen leads the opiate recovery program at Connections Counseling in Madison. A recovering addict herself, she agreed the approach to fighting heroin across the state needs to be multi-dimensional, encompassing law enforcement, treatment, education and overdose prevention.
“This generation of young people that struggle with opiate addiction have lost so many people,” Tikkanen explained. “So many friends have died, that it's really staggering to think about that as a 20-year-old, you go to between half a dozen and a dozen funerals a year for people who have overdosed and have passed away. I don't know if we fully understand the effects that that grief has on this generation of young people yet.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.