As prosecutors charge 10 people with participating in a multi-year cocaine conspiracy connected to individuals operating out of the Dane County area, local groups contend the recent busts are part of a larger issue with cocaine growing in Wisconsin. 

According to the United States Attorney’s Office, a federal grand jury in Madison unsealed three indictments charging 10 people with cocaine conspiracy on Jan. 5, including four individuals from Madison and one from Sun Prairie. Timothy M. O’Shea, who is the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, announced that the indictments would be issued against the individuals accused of cocaine conspiracy.

The charges listed include the possession and distribution of cocaine between December 2014 and April 2021, indicating the conspiracy was ongoing for multiple years.

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Though the 10 individuals were charged for their participation distributing cocaine, the indictments raise questions about cocaine usage in Dane County.

Sarah Johnson, the community health education specialist for Public Health Madison & Dane County, said cocaine-involved deaths in Dane County have increased over the past several years. Between 2014 and 2016, 22 individuals died as a result of cocaine-involved overdoses. But the number of cocaine-involved deaths more than tripled from 2018 to 2020, increasing to 75 deaths, Johnson said.

This 241% increase in the number of cocaine-involved deaths among Dane County residents points to an increase in overall cocaine usage in the area. 5 Door Recovery, a residential alcohol and drug treatment center in Madison, has also noticed an increase in cocaine usage among its patients.

5 Door Recovery’s Clinical Supervisor and Licensed Clinical Social Worker Laurie Duraney said the number of individuals seeking treatment for a primary cocaine addiction recently increased — about 50% of patients come to 5 Door Recovery seeking help with a primary cocaine addiction.

“We rarely see people who are only facing addiction to one substance,” Duraney said. “But about 50% of the patients are facing cocaine as their primary addiction. For example, a patient may be addicted to cocaine and opiates or cocaine and alcohol, but cocaine is the primary source.”

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Many patients at 5 Door Recovery face co-occurring disorders and a history of trauma in addition to their addiction, according to the 5 Door Recovery website. 5 Door Recovery uses a variety of techniques to treat adults living with substance use disorder, ultimately providing patients with up to 35 hours per week of therapeutic programming, Duraney said.

With group and individual sessions, family education, art and animal-assisted therapy, and recovery yoga, patients at 5 Door Recovery make immense progress, Duraney said. 5 Door Recovery remains focused on helping people recover from addiction, while simultaneously addressing mental health and trauma issues, according to their website. Ultimately, 5 Door Recovery has adopted a holistic approach to recovery.

“Through this therapy, we teach people ways to begin refusal skills, but also how to cope with all of the problems that come with extended substance abuse problems,” Duraney said.

Funded by the state of Wisconsin, 5 Door Recovery is different from other rehabilitation programs, which can cost patients thousands of dollars, according to the Addiction Center.

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Through state funding, 5 Door Recovery can have a greater impact on eliminating addiction in Dane County and surrounding areas. According to the Journal of Study on Alcohol and Drugs, socioeconomic status plays a role in drug addiction, and many individuals of lower socioeconomic status are more likely to develop a drug addiction.

But the high prices of services to fight addiction can often act as a barrier to care, keeping individuals of low socioeconomic status from ending their addiction. With 5 Door Recovery’s state funding, more individuals can fight their addiction, without having to face the concerns of the high costs of the process.

According to a Harvard Health article on addiction, addiction alters an individual’s brain, making it difficult to perform standard daily activities once addicted. Addiction issues have plagued Wisconsin for a long time, according to archived National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) records. Madison is a secondary distribution point for trafficking, with more instances occurring in Milwaukee.

In recent years, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has taken initiative regarding the opioid crisis in response to the high numbers of opioid-related deaths. The state instituted a program to better monitor and prevent opioid usage and addiction, which also increased the number of state-funded treatment facilities prohibiting the prescription of particular opioid drugs.

The Wisconsin DHS credits this program with successful decreasing of opioid-related deaths, usage and addiction. Still, the usage of other drugs in Wisconsin remains a concern, Duraney said.

“There have been fewer opiate addictions to treat because there has been a plan to deal with that,” Duraney said. “There isn’t anything like that for cocaine. Something like that for cocaine would be very useful.”

Even as prevention efforts persist, cocaine’s grip on the state is ever-prevalent. Just two weeks after the indictments, a drug bust in Kenosha County uncovered $4 million to $6 million worth of cocaine. The 106 pounds of cocaine tested positive for fentanyl, Kenosha News reported.