By Brandi Makuski
Just over a dozen representatives from Wood and Portage counties met on June 1 for the latest round-table discussion on drug abuse in Central Wisconsin.
Legislative and law enforcement leaders from Stevens Point, Wisconsin Rapids and various county-level officials met with medical professionals to discuss the area’s drug epidemic and possible solutions for it. The event is sometimes referred to as a “drug summit”.
Congressman Ron Kind and State Senator Julie Lassa were also in attendance for the meeting held at the Lincoln Center. Both said they wanted feedback from those who deal with the effects of drug abuse so they could help craft legislation to assist.
Wis. Rapids Police Chief Kurt Heuer and Assistant Chief Tom Zenner from Stevens Point Police Dept. both said their departments don’t have the funding needed to best combat local drug problems.
“We’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got, but we only have so much man power,” Heuer said. “We in Wisconsin Rapids, similar to in Stevens Point or across our Wood and Portage County area, really are experiencing the same types of things, and so we’re working together, working collectively as a community to better make our community aware of what’s going on.”
Heyer’s police dept., along with Wood Co. law enforcement, are part of the Central Wisconsin Drug Task Force, along with several other agencies including the Stevens Point Police Department.
“Not only the drug epidemic but also, you’re dealing with the other issues [that] come off of it like mental health,” said Tom Zenner, assistant chief for SPPD. “We have Health and Human Services here that we work very closely with.”
The drug summits have been ongoing for about two years throughout the Central Wisconsin area, and provide a venue for law enforcement, along with circuit court judges, district attorneys, medical professionals and mental health providers, for frank conversation over the real-life problems they see on a daily basis. The meetings are generally closed to the public to allow for the frank discussion.
“It’s a benefit to sit down to see different aspects, different directions that they’re looking to address,” Zenner said, adding officers at SPPD regularly see the need for mental health assistance when they investigate drug cases.
Kind said the meeting provided “great feedback” on some of the shortfalls at the local level, adding he hoped to create a framework for better communication regarding funding and other needs by local law enforcement as well as prevention programs.
“There’s also the need for us as a state and as a nation to step up our treatment for mental health issues,” Kind said.
The panelists all agreed on the need for additional funding at the local level for narcotics investigation and prevention.
Drug summits will continue throughout the area as participants’ scheduling allows. For now, some at state level say they plan to introduce new legislation to address the drug epidemic.
“At the state level, we’ve done a lot in terms of the HOPE legislation that was spearheaded by Representative (John) Nygren,” Lassa said. “This gives us an opportunity to build on that legislation and those new laws that were put into place this last session.”