As methamphetamines usage rates have soared in Wisconsin, Madison remains primarily affected by opioids.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, meth cases have rise by over 400% since 2008, going from 314 cases in 2008 to 1,452 in 2018.
According to Lt. Erik Fuhremann, head of the Dane County Narcotics Task Force, a major contributing factor to its increased usage in the state lies in the means of production.
Fuhremann said that the price of meth has gone down significantly, primarily due to Mexican drug cartels becoming highly effective at making it in labs.
“It might be anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 for a pound of meth,” Fuhremann said. “I can tell you, if you went back a half a dozen years, that figure would probably be at least double, if not triple.”
Fuhremann further explained that drugs tend to be cheaper the more urban an area gets. Meth is significantly more expensive in a city like Stevens Point than a city like Minneapolis, whose number No. 1 drug-related problem is meth, according to Fuhremann.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, in Dane County meth-related criminal cases have gone from seven cases in 2008 to 12 in 2018.
Comparatively, in Milwaukee County, the case figure dropped from 37 to 18 from 2017 to 2018.
In terms of rural counties, in Douglas County there were 28 cases in 2008 alone. That figure rose to 77 in 2018. In Barron County, there were 27 cases in 2008. That figure shot to 155 in 2018.
Fuhremann said that Dane County has escaped much of the issue, however. He noted that the meth cases in Dane County this year are in the single digits.
There is still not a clear answer as to why Dane County is relatively untouched by it, Fuhremann said.
A confounding factor for law enforcement when trying to find the answers to these questions is simply that the police are not involved until fairly late in the entire process, Fuhremann said.
“Law enforcement [is] usually late to the game with emerging drugs and crimes and trends because it’s not until it becomes a problem, typically, that it gets on our radar,” Fuhremann said.
Opioids have proven to be Dane County’s bigger adversary. While Dane County sees comparatively few meth-related deaths, Fuhremann said there is “easily” a death a week in Dane County due to opioid overdoses.
According to the Department of Health Services, 85 out of 100 thousand deaths were due to opioid overdoses in Dane County in 2018.
Comparatively, in Milwaukee County opioid-related deaths were 289 per 100 thousand.
As far as rural counties, in both Douglas and Barron counties, fewer than five deaths per 100 thousand were attributed to opioids.
In Wisconsin, synthetic opioids like fentanyl are becoming a primary concern. According to Paul Krupski, director of opioid initiatives at DHS, 2017 was the first year Wisconsin saw more deaths from synthetic opioids than former typical ones such as heroin.
Additionally, DHS data showed that 61 out of 85 opioid overdoses in Dane County were from synthetics.
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Fentanyl, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it is similar to morphine but can be 50 to 100 times more potent.
Fentanyl is particularly dangerous because it is mostly used in conjunction with other drugs like cocaine, often unknowingly. Fentanyl is very cheap, and drug dealers will lace their drugs with it both because it gets users more addicted and gives a better high, according to Krupski.
Krupski said that the added danger of laced drugs is many opioid overdoses often are the result of people doing drugs without realizing they are laced with these synthetic opioids.
Krupski added that people using heroin, however, go through a relatively common timeline: they become dependent on prescription drugs, and switch to heroin because it is much cheaper.
According to the Council of Foreign Relations, most of the United States’s heroin is smuggled across the southwestern border from Mexico. Additionally, while most of the fentanyl that comes to America originates from China, it commonly reaches the states through Mexico.
Fuhremann said that while law enforcement will always be a part of the system, people are beginning to recognize both that there is no easy solution, and that a more holistic approach is necessary when combating issues with illegal drugs.
“Fortunately, we’ve moved beyond the mindset of ‘this is just a law enforcement problem, and if law enforcement just arrested enough people, that would make the problem go away,’” Fuhremann said.