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Baldwin gathers local information on opioid epidemic

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin met with local officials during a roundtable to discuss the opioid and heroin epidemic in Wisconsin. "The opioid and heroin epidemic continues to grow at a very alarming pace," Baldwin said. "I've had the chance to join wi...

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U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, center, sits between State Rep. Nick Milroy, R-South Range, left, and Douglas County Supervisor Pat Ryan as they listen to stories and concerns about drug abuse and addiction treatment in Douglas County at the Superior Public Library on Wednesday morning. Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin met with local officials during a roundtable to discuss the opioid and heroin epidemic in Wisconsin.

"The opioid and heroin epidemic continues to grow at a very alarming pace," Baldwin said. "I've had the chance to join with law enforcement, elected officials, treatment specialists, prevention experts, people in recovery, all sorts of views and perspectives on this issue."

She said she was in Superior on Wednesday to learn how the issue is affecting Douglas County, and the challenges posed as a border community because of the challenges that can pose in terms of law enforcement collaboration and treatment resources.

"I think we work very well with our counterparts in Duluth," said Superior Assistant Police Chief Matt Markon.

One of the things that has helped is having a multi-agency task force deputized federally to overcome jurisdictional lines when it comes to investigating drug dealers, said Superior narcotics investigator, Tim Monte, who works with the Lake Superior Drug Task Force.

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"Our task force has become very successful in identifying sources coming into the city," Monte said. And when it comes to opioids coming into the area, he said the drugs largely come into the area from larger metropolitan areas like the Twin Cities, Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee.

"What they're doing is using local addicts to move their product, so they're setting up shop in these local addicts' apartments or houses ... or the addict sells it," Monte said.

Then they change tactics, moving around often.

"It can be incredibly challenge at times," he said of the labor-intensive investigations.

And those drug crimes have a ripple effect. A high percentage of property crimes come from addicts trying to get their next fix.

Even with four narcotics officers in Superior, Investigator Todd Maas said there is more work than available resources can cover. "In the meantime, there's more coming in," he said. He said the work is primarily focused on meth and opioids.

Douglas County Sheriff's Sgt. Jim Madden, who heads the Northwest Area Crime Unit, said one of the problems is limited resources for overtime, and money for controlled buys of drugs.

"Here we are in the third quarter and we're out of money again," Madden said. He said a COPS grant is helping them to get by, but to "cut the head off the snake" they need resources.

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"There is a significant amount of drugs in the community," said Superior Police Chief Nicholas Alexander. However, he said it's a problem that can't be solved through arrest along.

State Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, said there are many issues affecting the drug epidemic and it's going to take a multi-prong approach to address the issue. Among the challenges are limited mental health and treatment options locally, and socio-economic disparities that can lead to drug abuse - either as a means of making a living or escaping the reality of poverty.

"It's not just about treatment; but it's about employment and it's about housing," said Pat Schanen, director of Douglas County Health and Human Services. She said because criminal charges - sometimes felonies - often accompany drug abuse, it's difficult for people to find employment and impossible for them to get into public housing.

Schanen said the successes her department has seen occur when people have support they need.

"It really isn't just treatment alone," Schanen said. "It has to be multi-pronged."

During her stop in Superior, Baldwin announced Wisconsin was one of 44 states to receive grants to expand the capacity to prevent overdoses. However, she said there is still more to do to address the epidemic.

When Congress returns to session after Labor Day, Baldwin said she will continue to work with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., on a bill Baldwin co-sponsored to provide $600 million in supplemental appropriations to support the work of first responders, healthcare providers, and law enforcement as they continue to respond to the epidemic.

While the president signed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act in July, Baldwin said the shortcoming is funding didn't follow to implement the initiative.

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Baldwin has held similar roundtable dialogues on the opioid and heroin epidemic in Green Bay, La Crosse, Wausau, Viroqua and Ashland this year.

"This has been very informative," Baldwin said after the discussion. "There are some differences, but the underlying epidemic is really everywhere throughout the state. As I said, we resume our session next week and my highest priorities is to try to get emergency funding - a robust funding package - through the House and Senate."

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