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Wisconsin, known as "The Cheese State" because of its booming dairy industry, produces roughly 26% of the nation's cheese--about 3.36 billion pounds in 2019--including 818 million pounds of specialty cheeses, such as asiago, gorgonzola, gruyere, aged cheddar, gouda, and limburger. If Wisconsin were a country, it would be the fourth-largest cheese producer in the world! There are roughly 1.2 million cows in the state, and that's more than the number of human beings in Wisconsin's six largest cities - Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, Racine, and Appleton - combined. But sadly, Wisconsin is becoming known for something else-the scourge of drug and alcohol addiction.
Wisconsin boasts a relatively comfortable average annual income of $77,687 and thus one might be tempted to think that it had been spared the wave of drug addiction affecting poorer states, but nothing could be further from the truth. Approximately 788,000 Wisconsin residents - 13.56% of the state population - report using illegal drugs, and another 339,000 - 5.83% of the state population - abuse alcohol. Despite the state being fairly well-off in terms of resources, substance abuse in Wisconsin gives major cause for concern.
When we look at the relationship between addiction and economics in Wisconsin, we quickly realize that it's complicated. Drug and alcohol abuse affects the entire country, and no state in the US has been spared, including The Cheese State. In 2016 the United States had over 60,000 overdoses, (a rate of 175 people dying per day,) and when we examine the numbers, we see that overdoses kill more people annually than suicides, homicides, car accidents or guns. And, although poorer people are statistically more likely to struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, correlation is not causation. This doesn't necessarily mean that people that are more well-off economically (like many in Wisconsin) are less likely to become addicted; in fact sometimes wealthy people are thrown into poverty directly because of addiction. Someone who is solidly middle class can fall into poverty if their addiction leads to poor work performance and job loss. And, if someone has been fired from an old job, it can become a great deal harder to get a new one. It's a vicious downward spiral.
Much like the rest of the United States, prescription painkiller (opioid) addiction has blown mercilessly through Wisconsin, wreaking havoc on communities and ripping apart whole families. An estimated 78% of Wisconsin drug overdose deaths involved opioids in 2018, totaling more than 846 (a rate of 15.3). Opioid addiction is particularly menacing because, due to the highly addictive nature of the drugs, it can sneak up on even the most careful of people, even when they think they're being vigilant.
Just as in the rest of the country, the root of the opioid problem in Wisconsin stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive pills when, in many cases, lesser drugs like Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. Opioids may seem safe because a doctor prescribes them, but just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a path to full-on dependency. In 2018, Wisconsin providers wrote 45.8 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people!
Sadly many Wisconsin residents have discovered that abusing prescription painkillers can lead to using even more dangerous substances. Federal and state regulations now try to control and limit the prescribing of opioids, (a valiant effort) but it has had the unintended effect of causing the use of street drugs like heroin (which is cheaper to obtain on the streets and gives a similar high) to skyrocket. And, the danger to substance abusers in Wisconsin doesn't stop there. When certain street drugs like heroin aren't available, drug addicts often then turn to incredibly dangerous synthetics like fentanyl, (which is far stronger than heroin) and the result is usually a body bag. Initially, most users don't intentionally seek out fentanyl, but unfortunately once a person has been exposed to a higher toxicity of a drug, the brain chemistry is altered further, and users will seek out the most potent form. At the height of addiction, users are wholly unable to calculate the risk and are willing to go to any length to obtain the high. In the United States as a whole, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths, responsible for 59% of all opioid-related decedents.
A recent study took a look at substance abuse among youth in Wisconsin, and the numbers give cause for concern.
4% of high school students report they used any form of cocaine (for example, powder, crack, or freebase) 1 or more times (lifetime.)
3% report they've used pain relievers in any way not directed by a doctor in the past year.
Although the drug and alcohol abuse situation looks bleak by the numbers, the good news for Wisconsin residents struggling with addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. We are more connected now than we have ever been, and The Cheese State has an abundance of resources to fit every need, whether you just want counseling, a broader more community-based approach, or are seeking full-on detox services. The important part is acknowledging the forces holding you back so you can begin the journey towards breaking free of them. This is the first step toward the rest of your life.
Wisconsin State Facts
Wisconsin Population: 5,362,884
Law Enforcement Officers in Wisconsin: 13,661
Wisconsin Prison Population: 34,300
Wisconsin Probation Population: 55,644
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 45
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in Wisconsin
Cocaine: 7.9 kgs.
Heroin: 0.1 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 0.0 kgs.
Marijuana: 37.8 kgs.
Ecstasy: 0 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 25 (DEA, state, and local)
Wisconsin Drug Situation: The drug threat in Wisconsin varies by area. Of concern in eastern and central Wisconsin are the availability, distribution, and abuse of powder and crack cocaine; the increasing availability of high-purity heroin; and the number of new users, particularly in the Milwaukee area. Marijuana remains the most readily available and most widely abused drug throughout Wisconsin. Methamphetamine production and use are expanding from the neighboring states of Iowa and Minnesota into northwestern and southwestern Wisconsin. Three types of organizations are responsible for most of the transportation and wholesale distribution of drugs in Wisconsin: Mexican drug trafficking organizations transport cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine; Nigerian criminal groups distribute Southeast Asian heroin; and Dominican criminal groups distribute cocaine and South American heroin. African-American and Hispanic street gangs, particularly organized street gangs such as the Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords, and Latin Kings, dominate the street-level distribution of most drugs, particularly crack cocaine.
Cocaine in Wisconsin: Both cocaine and crack are widely available in Wisconsin. Cocaine is transported into the state by Mexican drug trafficking organizations. These organizations transport large shipments of cocaine from the Southwest Border either through Chicago or to Milwaukee directly, concealed within shipments of legitimate goods in tractor-trailers. These Mexican organizations also are the primary wholesale distributors ofcocaine and supply African-American and Hispanic street gangs that control the retail distribution of crack throughout the state. DEA Milwaukee and the DEA Madison report that cocaine is readily available in multi-kilogram quantities. DEA Green Bay reports that cocaine is readily available in multi-ounce to kilogram quantities.
Heroin in Wisconsin: The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office records show that heroin abuse has stabilized in Wisconsin over the past two years. Most heroin use is concentrated in the Milwaukee and Racine areas. Rising levels of purity, some measured as high as 95 percent give users the option of snorting the drug rather than injecting, an option that may appeal to younger users. DEA Milwaukee reports that Southeast Asian heroin, trafficked by Nigerian criminal groups, is the predominant type available. A recent DEA Milwaukee investigation resulted in the seizure of 2.3 kilograms of Southwest Asian heroin, the largest seizure of heroin in Wisconsin history. The seizure resulted in the arrest of multiple Nigerian defendants. The office further reports that Southwest Asian heroin has not been encountered in the Milwaukee area. South American heroin is distributed by Dominican traffickers. The availability of brown heroin remains low, and black tar heroin is rare in Milwaukee.
Methamphetamine in Wisconsin: Methamphetamine production and abuse are expanding from Minnesota and Iowa into rural counties in western Wisconsin. To a lesser extent, some methamphetamine is imported into the state by Mexican sources from the Southwest Border. DEA Milwaukee has not observed a significant increase in distribution or use of methamphetamine. DEA Green Bay reports that there is limited availability of methamphetamine in its area, as most is produced locally by small clandestine laboratories. However, a recent seizure of 37 pounds of methamphetamine was made from out of state individuals, who were attempting to create a market in the Green Bay area. DEA Madison reports that methamphetamine is readily available in ounce quantities in northwestern Wisconsin, supplied by sources from Minneapolis.
Club Drugs in Wisconsin: "Club drugs" and "designer drugs" are general terms for synthetic chemical drugs that have become popular with teenagers and young adults. These drugs include MDMA (Ecstasy), Ketamine, GHB, GBL, and LSD. According to a recent drug price survey in Wisconsin, most of the law enforcement agencies that responded indicated that club drugs were available in their jurisdictions, albeit at low levels. The DEA has reported encounters with Ketamine in Milwaukee and Madison, and with GHB in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Marijuana in Wisconsin: Marijuana remains the most readily available and most widely used drug in Wisconsin. Milwaukee and Madison are both major destinations for Mexico-produced marijuana and transshipment points to other areas in the state. This is augmented by local cultivation. Sixty percent of prison inmates test positive for marijuana when entering correctional institutions. Wisconsin authorities further report that one-fourth of all marijuana users also use other drugs. DEA Milwaukee, Madison, and Green Bay report that marijuana is readily available in multi-kilogram quantities.
Other Drugs in Wisconsin: The use of diverted controlled substances in Wisconsin continues to be a problem. The most commonly diverted controlled substances from the licit market are ritalin, vicodin, hydrocodone, and other hydrocodone products, oxycontin, and other oxycodone products, and the benzodiazepines.
DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There have been four MET deployments in the State of Wisconsin since the inception of the program: Racine, Beloit, and two in Milwaukee.
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There have been no RET deployments in the State of Wisconsin.
DEA Special Topics: The Chicago Field Division is committed to fostering cooperative efforts among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies within Wisconsin. There are 15 Task Force Officers, representing eight law enforcement agencies, assigned to the DEA in Wisconsin. In 1998, a special heroin task force was formed by the DEA to combat high-purity heroin that had recently appeared in the Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha areas. The task force is comprised of representatives from DEA, the Division of Narcotics Enforcement (DNE), the Milwaukee Police Department, and the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department, and is funded through a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) grant.