Heroin continues to be a major problem in our area and the entire state of Wisconsin. Watertown alone has seen four heroin related overdose deaths in just over a year and ancillary crime from addicts looking for money to feed their addiction is happening every day.
I look forward to the spring legislative session when the Assembly will take up several heroin related bills. My support for some of the bills stems from the community forum on heroin I hosted earlier this fall. It was a productive discussion with input from law enforcement, human services, recovering addicts, prosecutors, the medical field and the faith community.
While I am convinced the legislation I am bringing forward with several other members of the legislature will make a difference, it's now clear to me that we need to attack this epidemic from other angles as well. One way we can combat the growing problem is to change what we are telling our kids. The standard "say no to drugs" and "this is your brain on drugs" messages aren’t as effective as they could be; we need to take a new approach.
The popular D.A.R.E. program that local law enforcement has embraced for years needs to be revamped to deal with the resurgence of heroin and opiate addiction. This is a new problem and the old approach isn't helping much.
There is no question D.A.R.E. has helped spread the word to our children that smoking, drinking and drug use are not only bad for you, but also can be deadly. My own child was even reluctant to take ibuprofen for a fever because the dangers of drugs had been so strongly stressed to him in D.A.R.E.
However, as our kids grow out of these elementary programs and enter high school, I believe that many are being set up to fail. For example, they certainly are aware that cigarette smoking is addictive and potentially deadly. Yet, they may see their parents smoke every day and not be adversely affected.
Perhaps they will attend a party over the weekend and see their classmates drinking alcohol. While they have been taught that alcohol abuse can lead to addiction and have deadly consequences, often times this isn’t the end result. Their friends will most likely be back at school the following Monday and they may be tempted to join them the next time.
The same holds true for marijuana. Our kids know that it is illegal and they shouldn't smoke it, but if they see a friend smoke it and live to tell about their experience they might be tempted to join next time.
This is where heroin is different. There is no question it is a much more addictive drug. Medical experts agree that an opiate addiction is one of the strongest addictions known to man. While the other substances can be deadly as well, most times the effects don't hit as fast -- or as hard -- as heroin.
While well intentioned, the current anti-drug messages and programs may be causing a "Boy Who Cried Wolf" effect. Many have heard the warnings, weighed the risks and decided to gamble and consume those substances and think the odds will be the same when it comes to heroin. They most certainly are not.
That one-time gamble that they were lucky enough to get away with when having a drink, cigarette, or joint can turn into an instant addiction because heroin is a much stronger substance. Then the spiral of abuse, theft, overdose and death becomes a much more real scenario.
I am in no way advocating we stop telling our kids that smoking and drinking are dangerous behaviors that can have deadly consequences. However, it needs to be made clear that heroin and oxycontin are much more powerful. They need to be able to differentiate between these opiates and other drugs.
I am calling on the organizers of the youth programs to change their approach. In the meantime, the most effective way to communicate this message to our kids comes from us, the parents. This is a conversation we all need to be having.
Talk to your kids. Talk to your grandkids. Be honest with them. They need to hear it from you that we are dealing with a vastly more dangerous substance.
To contact Representative Jagler, call 888-534-0037, email Rep.Jagler@legis.wi.gov or mail to 316 North, State Capitol PO Box 8952 Madison, WI 53708