I hear all the time that our families are increasingly threatened by a toxic drug epidemic, but lack the resources to fight back. Where temptation used to come in the form of an uncle’s unlocked liquor cabinet, six in ten Americans who are prescribed opioids now keep leftover for future use. Another one in five share their prescriptions with family and friends. Others have seen increased access to harmful street drugs on the black market, including marijuana, heroin, and crystal meth.
Recently, I hosted a Drug Enforcement Roundtable in Marathon County at Northcentral Technical College to discuss our fight. I was joined by elected officials, nationally recognized treatment specialist Jeff Van Vonderen, and a panel of six sheriffs from across Northern Wisconsin.
Together, we discussed the tremendous challenges law enforcement face, including a lack of resources to address treatment and recovery, increased drug trafficking from our southern border, and a growing culture of casual marijuana use that has exacerbated the drug addiction crisis.
During the panel, sheriffs talked about the ugly face of addiction, providing personal stories of dealing with those affected.
As a parent, one story in particular struck me as a heart wrenching example of why we must never relent in the fight against drug addiction. Burnett County Sheriff Ronald Wilhelm shared the story of two children, no older than five years old, locked in a basement while their parents smoked meth upstairs. He described a house full of pipes and syringes, and the children forced to eat dry cereal that the parents had dumped on the floor.
The reality is that communities across the North are facing similar issues, including funding challenges for local foster care facilities. This is due in large part to generational drug use that leaves children with no family to turn to when their parents are incarcerated, or even worse, killed by their addiction.
The long-term effects that drug abuse has on families and children underscore a tremendous need to increase resources for treatment and recovery to break the cycle of generational drug use and jail.
Law enforcement will also require additional resources to keep illegal drugs out of our homes, and out of the hands of children. As AG Schimel pointed out, an explosion in the supply of heroin coming from drug cartels underscores the need to secure our Southern Border. Ultimately, when we talk about border security, we are talking about the security of communities right here in Northern Wisconsin.
Make no mistake: drug addiction is by all means a community issue, because its effects impact everyone, not just the user. Just a few months ago, Jennifer from Balsam Lake contacted me to share the story of her father, Daniel, who was involved in a nearly fatal accident on his way to work when another man, naked and high on meth, crossed into oncoming traffic and struck his car head on. The injuries he sustained has made it nearly impossible to provide for his six children, three of whom are adopted.
Earlier this year, I wrote a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to draw attention to these types of tragedies taking place on our roads. Drug-impaired driving is a rapidly growing trend in the United States, and just this year a report from the Governors Highway Safety Association found that for the first time ever, the percentage of deaths as a result of drug-impaired driving (43%) exceeded the percentage of deaths as a result of drunk driving (37%). Drug-impaired driving is especially exacerbated in rural communities, like those in northern Wisconsin, where public transportation is rarely an option. The Federal Government must take action.
This shocking statistic is one we must remember as states like California, Oregon, and Massachusetts look to legalize marijuana and weaken penalties for drug-related crimes. As Jeff Van Vonderen reminds us, the overwhelming majority of meth and heroin addicts started with marijuana. Despite popular rhetoric about its potential to reduce drug use, the reality is that marijuana remains a gateway drug with long term effects on mental and physical health.
As a prosecutor I fought to put drug dealers behind bars. As your Congressman, I will continue to work my heart out to keep drug supplies away from dealers, drug dealers away from our kids, and drug users off our roads and into treatment. We owe it Wisconsin to do better, and I will make sure that we do.