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Meth Update
Thursday, July 16, 2009
 
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METH UPDATE
IN WISCONSIN REPORTS
Since Wisconsin got serious about dealing with methamphetamine, one of the hardest hit counties in the state started a drug court.  We first met one of the St. Croix County drug court participants years ago, in a series produced by Frederica Freyberg.  In that series, Freyberg described how the woman was arrested and had her children removed by social services. This woman, charged in connection with methamphetamine possession and delivery, is now doing very well.  Freyberg checks back on her case and reports on the successes she has experienced going through intensive and monitored treatment as opposed to incarceration.

Click Here to Watch the "Meth In Wisconsin" Special
Meth Update
TRANSCRIPT
Patty Loew:
This week, we feature the reports of "In Wisconsin"'s Frederica Freyberg, a veteran of Wisconsin Public Television. Four years ago, she put the spotlight on Wisconsin's growing methamphetamine crisis and she joins us this week.

Frederica Freyberg:
That's right, patty. Thanks. In the summer of 2005, communities like Hudson were sounding the alarm. But a law that banned the sale of Sudafedren stamped out local meth labs and greatly curbed the crisis in western Wisconsin. An aggressive approach, including a new drug court, hopes to close the revolving door of meth users being arrested and re-arrested. In 2007, we visited the drug court in St. Croix County.

Officer:
We're going to hit this one now.

Frederica Freyberg:
When it comes to the war on methamphetamine, the law enforcement landscape has changed in northwest Wisconsin.

Officer:
All the local meth labs have disappeared.

Frederica Freyberg:
That's mostly thanks to a recent state law that strictly limits the sale of a certain type of cold medicine that home cooks used to make meth. Shutting down local meth labs reduces local supply of the drug and frees up police to go after the big guys.    
Officer:
Get on the ground!

Frederica Freyberg:
And authorities say they’re making a dent in the larger outside supply of meth coming into Wisconsin from across the border in Minnesota. Undercover agents say big-time dealers selling Mexican-made meth within our borders are now running scared. They say word has spread about how tough Wisconsin is on meth.

Dennis Hillstead:
The dealers are very reluctant to come to St. Croix County because they're afraid they're going to get caught.

Officer:
If they come across into Wisconsin and sell methamphetamine, they'll receive anything from 5, 10, 15 year sentences in the state prison.

Frederica Freyberg:
When we last visited in 2005, the county jail population had exploded with meth inmates costing millions of dollars. The number of inmates has dropped from around 170 to 130 preventing another new jail addition.

Dennis Hillstead:
My perception talking with the drug guys, is the number of new users is beginning to slow down.

Frederica Freyberg:
Slowing the number of new users is heartening news in these parts. Widespread education and outreach to warn young people against the dangers of meth became a community-wide effort when the alarm was sounding over the crisis in 2005.

David McQuillen:
It makes me feel good about the community. Makes me feel good about the people in the community.

Frederica Freyberg:
But perhaps the biggest change on the law enforcement landscape in the battle against meth in St. Croix County, a recognition that treating meth addicts interrupts the cycle of crime.

Edward Vlack:
Gets to the point that something has to be done.

Frederica Freyberg:
Something has to be done, according to this judge, because state prisons are full of meth addicts. Meth addicts that sold the drug or committed crimes to support the habit. Keeping them in prison costs the state about $26,000 a year. Statistics show nearly 70% of prison inmates are re-arrested within three years of their release.

David McQuillen:
We were having people go to prison, come back out and re-offend. We needed to try something different.

Liesl Nelson:
There is word coming down from higher up that we just can no longer afford to incarcerate these people.

Frederica Freyberg:
People like these people, arrested in the summer of 2005 in a small town in St. Croix County. Arrested for using and dealing meth. Among those arrested that day, this wife and mother.

Woman:
It seems glamorous. You think you're having fun. It only takes, you know, 20 minutes and your whole life comes crashing down.

Frederica Freyberg:
But for this woman, that crash had been building for more than a decade.

Woman:
So like at 13, I would use every now and then. By 15, 16, it was an all-the-time habit. Then I got pregnant at 16. Pregnant at 17, pregnant at 18.

Frederica FReyberg:
By her own account, her children lived a traumatic life with meth addicts for parents.

Woman:
I’ve used their whole lives, so I never parented sober.

Frederica Freyberg:
The children's trauma culminated with police sirens in the summer of 2005. The children were taken from their home, from their parents. Their father is now in prison. The children went to live with their grandmother. Their mother sat in jail.

Woman:
I was sadly content in jail. You don't have to worry about anything there. You don't have bills to pay. You don't have to worry about using. So I got sadly content with being in jail.

Frederica Freyberg:
But when she was arrested again for dealing meth, the system tried another tact. She was given one last chance to change.

Edward Vlack:
That either it's go through drug court or go to prison.

Frederica Freyberg:
Judge Edward Vlack presides over St. Croix County's drug court. It's new here, but one of about 1,000 now operating across the country. In the Hudson courthouse it’s a weekly closed-session hearing that so far has eight participants, including the young mother with the long history of drug abuse.

Edward Vlack:
How are you today?  

Woman:
I'm good.

Edward Vlack:
Tell me about your week.

Woman:
It was okay. Worked. Went to treatment.

Edward Vlack:
I've had the situation sending people to prison hoping they get treatment and they don't. At least when I do this, I know I'm monitoring this case every single week.

Frederica Freyberg:
Participants must go to drug court for 18 months. They're closely monitored, drug tested up to three times a week.

Brent Standaert:
This particular test tests for narcotics and this is an alcohol test that everybody gets for drug court.

Man:
The owner came and talked to me the other day and said he heard some really good things about me and said they’d like to keep me.

Frederica Freyberg:
Drug court involves a system of rewards for good behavior. Simple items like a pencil or a small gift certificate. It also involves consequences and sanctions for bad behavior up to and including jail. It involves support from a courthouse team and uncommon interaction from the bench.

Edward Vlack:
I have one last question. What did you cook for thanksgiving dinner?  

Woman:
I got to bring milk.

Edward Vlack:
And I asked them, tell me about your life from your point of view. Any stressors, anything you'll have to face that might make you want to use.

Frederica Freyberg:
But most importantly, drug court mandates treatment. St. Croix County is using a new brand of meth treatment proving successful at the Minnesota-based Hazelton facility.

Linda Cooper:
One of the lessons is called "Be smart, not strong."   In other words, it addresses the fact that there's things that you need to do to stay clean rather than to just decide you want to. If it was that easy, we wouldn't have such a big problem.

Liesl Nelson:
We're not just treating their addictions. But someone who has been abusing meth often the rest of their lives has crumbled in the meantime.

Mike Langin:
These are people that have lived very much undisciplined lives, living from one day to the next. That's pretty much the way they operate.

Edward Vlack:
Let me ask you this: have you ever been on a budget?  

Woman:
No.

Frederica Freyberg:
In drug court, the judge guides participants through everyday tasks.

Woman:
Now, I have to answer to him. Did you do this appointment?  Did you do this?  Then I'm more apt to do it. Right now, that's the structure that I need.

Frederica Freyberg:
The mother that lost custody of her children to meth is now getting her own life back on track, working, going to treatment. But it's an uphill climb. A climb she must finish before getting her children back.

Woman:
I'm not at all financially or mentally ready for them to come home.

Frederica Freyberg:
And yet she vows to forever change.

Woman:
I can't take it anymore. I can't live that life anymore. You know, it's not fair to myself or them.

Edward Vlack:
How many days?  

Woman:
264.

Frederica Freyberg:
That's days clean.

Liesl Nelson:
When you hear those numbers, I think just in terms of small successes on a weekly basis, I think those are really great to hear.

Frederica Freyberg:
Recidivism rates drop as sobriety increases. That's the whole point of drug court.

David McQuillen:
My major success with drug court will be when our drug court participants are filing tax returns.

Frederica Freyberg:
In St. Croix County, they say drug court is too young to declare it a success. Just as in Wisconsin, victory cannot yet be declared on the war on meth. On this day, the county prosecutor had five new meth cases to charge. The danger after some measure of success we're told is complacency.

David McQuillen:
No community should go through what we went through. I hope that we can remember that.

Frederica Freyberg:
I can tell you that the woman we featured in our report who had lost her children after her arrest did graduate from the very tough program.

Patty Loew:
And St. Croix County is working to get more programs through grant money, right?  

Frederica Freyberg:
Yes. We just learned they're trying to start a juvenile treatment court to address everything from drug abuse, mental health and truancy.
                           
Patty Loew:
If you'd like to watch our entire meth “In Wisconsin” series, go to our website at wpt.org/inwisconsin.
 
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