No easy solution for area's meth problem

By Rod Stetzer, The Chippewa Herald

EAU CLAIRE — The dramatic rise in methamphetamine use in western Wisconsin has two Democratic lawmakers searching for ways to attack the problem.
 
“The district attorney’s office in Eau Claire is completely overwhelmed,” said state Rep. Dana Wachs, who represents the 91st Assembly District, which includes a portion of the town of Wheaton in Chippewa County and much of the city of Eau Claire.
 
“If this budget was ours to write, I think we would invest in more judges and prosecutors and alternative courts,“ Wachs said.
State Rep. Katrina Shankland, the assistant minority leader in the state Assembly, said she talked with a county human services department in her district about meth.
 
“Even the most isolated towns are having this issue,” said the Stevens Point representative, who is from Assembly District 71.
 
Shankland and Wachs talked about western Wisconsin’s meth problem and Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget on Friday in Wachs’ law office in Eau Claire.
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad D. Schimel told two Assembly committee members on Thursday meth abuse has quietly surged in the state.
 
“Based on arrests, case filings, and crime lab submissions, we believe meth use in the state went up 250 to 300 percent between 2011 and 2015,” Schimel said.
 
The meth is coming from Mexican drug cartels, which have taken over most of the meth production in Wisconsin.
 
“It is more potent, more addictive and destructive, and cheaper,” Schimel said. “Since most of the distribution is being directed from outside our state and country, it is also more difficult for law enforcement to infiltrate and shut down the dealer networks.”
 
Barron County saw a 193 percent increase in meth-related arrests from 2011 to 2015 and the city of Prairie du Chien saw a 700 percent increase, according to the findings.
 
The state crime lab saw a 349 percent increase in meth cases during the same time frame. Heroin cases the lab analyzed rose by 97 percent over that same period, a November crime 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 told the committees.
 
“We’ve found ways to control the supply of ingredients to make methamphetamine,” he said. “The source simply shifted to Mexican cartels. When we arrest a trafficker, there’s so much money (at stake) that someone else just slides in. We will not win this battle unless we address the demand side.”
 
Shankland said she is working on getting one-time raised levy limits for municipalities to hire more law enforcement.
 
The village of Plover has seen a lot of activity and growth over the last 10 years, but Shankland said the village hasn’t been able to hire additional police in the last decade because of state tax levy limits.
 
“It’s unconscionable a village can’t afford to hire another law enforcement official,” she said.