Tag Archives: heroin

Wisconsin man sentenced for sex trafficking

Monta Groce, 30, of Sparta, Wisconsin, was sentenced this week to 25 years in prison for using violence, threats and coercion to compel three young women suffering from heroin addiction to prostitute for his profit in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

In July, a  jury convicted Groce of three counts of sex trafficking by force, threats or coercion; one count of conspiracy to engage in interstate transportation for prostitution; one count of interstate transportation for prostitution; one count of maintaining a property for drug trafficking; one count of using a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking and one count of witness retaliation.

The sentence was announced by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, along with U.S. Attorney John W. Vaudreuil of the Western District of Wisconsin and Special Agent in Charge R. Justin Tolomeo of the FBI’s Milwaukee Division.

“Groce beat, tormented and enslaved vulnerable young women struggling with heroin addiction,” said Gupta.  “He treated them as sex slaves rather than human beings and his unconscionable actions offend the most basic standards of human decency.  Nothing can undo the harm Groce inflicted or the pain he caused, but hopefully this sentence provides some measure of closure and relief for the victims.”

“Sex trafficking is modern slavery, and cannot be tolerated in any civilized nation,” said Vaudreuil.  “These crimes, which took place in a small Wisconsin city, demonstrate that sex trafficking is not just a big city issue; it is a horrible problem in rural America too.  We will continue to work with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to bring to justice those who violently exploit vulnerable victims in Wisconsin.”

“Sex trafficking has no boundaries and can occur anywhere,” said Tolomeo.  “When combined with drug addiction, the results are devastating.  Groce used heroin and violence to force victims into prostitution.  The FBI will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to target these predators.”

Evidence presented at trial included the testimony of the three victims identified in the indictment as Jane Does 1 through 3. They testified that Groce sold heroin in Sparta between December 2012 and April 2013.  During that time, he enticed the victims to begin prostituting for his profit by providing them with heroin .  As their dependency increased, he turned to violence and threatened to cut off their heroin supply if they disobeyed him, withheld money earned from prostitution or otherwise refused to prostitute.

Groce further kept some of the victims in perpetual debt by fronting them heroin and charging fines as punishment.

He advertised the victims on Backpage.com and paid other addicts to drive them from Wisconsin to Minnesota to prostitute.

 

The case was investigated by FBI’s Milwaukee Division with assistance from the Sparta Police Department and Monroe County, Wisconsin, Joint Investigative Task Force.

Public wants more government action against opioid abuse

Two-thirds of Americans believe the federal and state governments should do more to combat the nation’s heroin and prescription drug epidemic, according to new results from the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll.

Only a third in the Kaiser poll said heroin abuse is an “extremely serious” health problem in the United States and even fewer — only about a quarter — said abuse of strong prescription painkillers is an “extremely serious” health problem. This is despite 44 percent of Americans reporting that they personally know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers.

Still, two-thirds of Americans acknowledge prescription pain relief abuse as either “extremely serious” or “very serious.”

The Kaiser poll showed Americans feel the effort to address the growing abuse of opioids is not aggressive enough at any level — not by federal and state governments and not by doctors and users. However, more Americans fault the users than government: About 70 percent said drug users aren’t doing enough to deal with addiction and 60 percent said federal efforts are too small.

In the survey, about 80 percent said the following steps would be at least somewhat effective:

• Increasing pain management training for doctors and students.

• Increasing access to addiction treatment programs.

• Increasing public awareness programs.

• Increasing research about pain and pain management.

• Monitoring how doctors prescribe prescription painkillers.

The poll, conducted in mid-April, also revealed most people don’t know the Affordable Care Act mandates that insurance plans provide mental health benefits and substance abuse treatment under the same copays, deductibles and coverage limits they apply to other medical services.

“This survey is just the latest in a long line of evidence that this out-of-control epidemic is affecting every one of us — no matter our background, no matter where we live,” said U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “I agree that the federal government must do more and be a better partner with state and local officials who are on the front lines every day.”

Mayor wants nation’s first supervised heroin injection facility

The mayor of Ithaca, New York, wants his city in upstate New York to host the nation’s first supervised injection facility, enabling heroin users to shoot illegal drugs into their bodies under the care of a nurse without getting arrested by police.

The son of an addict who abandoned his family, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick is only 28 years old, but knows intimately how destructive drugs can be.

As he worked his way from a homeless shelter into the Ivy League at Cornell University and then became Ithaca’s youngest mayor four years ago, Myrick encountered countless people who never got the help they needed.

“I have watched for 20 years this system that just doesn’t work,” Myrick explained in an Associated Press interview. “We can’t wait anymore for the federal government. We have people shooting up in alleys. In bathroom stalls. And too many of them are dying.”

Describing his proposals to the AP ahead of a formal announcement planned for this week, the mayor said creating a place where addicts can inject heroin safely is a key part of a holistic approach to drug abuse that Ithaca will be rolling out, one that treats addiction more like a public health issue than a problem for the criminal justice system to solve. Nurses or physicians could quickly administer an antidote if a user overdoses, while addicts also could get clean syringes and be directed to treatment and recovery programs, he said.

Myrick expects supervised injection sites to be a hard sell in Albany, let alone in Washington, D.C., but his political sensibilities reflect what polls show is a growing belief among younger Americans that the war on drugs announced in 1971 by President Richard Nixon has failed.

“I think for a lot of people this is going to sound like a weird concept — ‘Aren’t you just encouraging them to use drugs?’” he said. “But I think it’s more possible now than at any time in our history. The opioid epidemic is affecting more people and we know we can’t wait any longer for the federal government to do something.”

Canada, Europe and Australia are already working to reduce overdose deaths with these facilities. In the United States, even the idea of creating a supervised injection site faces significant legal and political challenges. But Myrick sees an opening now in response to huge increases in overdose deaths nationwide. In New York state, overdose deaths involving heroin and other opiates shot from 186 in 2003 to 914 in 2012.

Myrick said he will ask New York’s Health Department to declare the heroin epidemic a state health crisis, which he said would enable his city to proceed without involving the state legislature.

Ithaca officials began looking seriously at alternatives to simply jailing addicts after the city had three fatal overdoses and 13 non-fatal overdoses in a three-week span in 2014. The city of 30,000, which hosts Ithaca College as well as Cornell, is one of New York’s most liberal communities and is a prime candidate for new approaches, Myrick said.

Myrick crafted his plan in collaboration with police and prosecutors, overcoming initially strong opposition from the elected district attorney, Gwen Wilkinson.

“What brought me around was the realization that this wouldn’t make it more likely that people will use drugs,” Wilkinson said. “What it would do is make it less likely that people will die in restaurant bathrooms.”

Police Chief John Barber is not totally convinced. He “firmly” supports other parts of the plan, but said “I am wary of supervised injection sites.”

Spokesmen for the Department of Health and Gov. Andrew Cuomo didn’t respond Monday to the AP’s request for comment. Cuomo has supported needle exchange programs and boosted funding for addiction prevention and treatment, but has yet to take a position on supervised injection.

Some pieces of Ithaca’s plan don’t need state approval, such as the creation of a new city office of drug policy and a youth apprenticeship program to give young people alternatives to drugs. Myrick also wants police to send low-level drug offenders to treatment instead of jail, adopting a strategy used in Seattle.

Canada’s first injection facility, known as “Insite,” opened in Vancouver in 2003. Every day, 800 users visit, and between 10 and 20 of them overdose each week, but no one has ever died there, according to Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer at Vancouver Coastal Health, which operates it.

“These overdoses are completely reversible,” Daly said. “People die because they inject alone.”

Insite receives most of its funding from government now, but faced significant initial opposition from officials in Ottawa. A 2011 Canadian Supreme Court decision ordered federal officials to stop fighting the facility, noting that it has saved lives “with no discernable negative impact.”

In fact, overdose deaths dropped 35 percent in the surrounding neighborhood after Insite opened its doors at ground zero for Vancouver’s heroin problem, according to research by Brown University epidemiologist Brandon D.L. Marshall.

In the U.S., state and federal laws would put both users and operators of such a facility at risk of arrest.

Even some former addicts say it should stay that way.

“We’re talking about a government-sponsored shooting gallery,” said Mike Gimbel, an addiction expert who served as drug czar in Baltimore County after beating heroin. “It’s misguided. The addict is going to say: this is cool, a place I don’t have to worry about the cops. Why should an addict stop if there are no consequences for their behavior?”

That said, more funding to provide wider access to effective treatment is the only solution, Gimbel said. “We all recognize we’re not going to be able to arrest our way out of this problem.”

Confronting the ‘heroin tsunami’ in Kootenai County, Idaho

Crushing news came shortly after Cindy Schaffner heard sirens just a few blocks from her Post Falls home.

The sirens, Schaffner learned, were for her 19-year-old daughter, Cathryn Mason.

Cathryn, who loved the outdoors and was majoring in recreation management at North Idaho College, was in critical condition. She’d overdosed on heroin and alcohol.

Cathryn died two days later after she was taken off of life support. That was in May 2014.

“She was a very driven and focused person,” Schaffner said, fighting back tears. “She loved to go on hikes and was full of life. She was celebrating getting good grades for the semester.”

Schaffner said it was the first time she was aware of that her daughter had used drugs.

“She had a strong sense of morals and values and she had faith, but, for whatever reason, she decided to compromise those values,” Schaffner said. “It was a surprise to all of us because she wasn’t a user.”

Cathryn was caught on the edge of what officials refer to as the “heroin tsunami,” a nationwide opioid abuse epidemic that Kootenai County has not been immune to in recent years.

“We have seen a significant increase in the usage of heroin in our community,” Post Falls Police Chief Scot Haug said.

Haug said the rise of heroin usage is due to two reasons. It is not only used as a recreational drug for the intense euphoria it induces, but it is an opioid painkiller that people turn to when they are taken off prescription medications or those medications aren’t offering as much relief as desired.

Heroin is synthesized from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of the Asian opium poppy plant. It appears as a “China white” or brown powder or as a sticky black substance as “black tar” heroin.

Heroin can be injected, inhaled by snorting or sniffing, or smoked. All three methods deliver the drug to the brain rapidly, contributing to its health risks and high risk for addiction.

“Some experts believe that heroin is more addictive than meth and more difficult to detox off of,” Haug said.

The street value of heroin is about $300 per gram, according to police. It is usually sold by the “point” — or tenth of a gram — for $30.

While Cathryn, who graduated from Post Falls High in 2012, was not on painkillers, her sudden and unexpected death shows how lethal heroin can be, Schaffner said.

“Some do it for years and years, while others may try it once and it kills them,” she said. “It’s like playing Russian roulette.”

Rising numbers

News earlier this month that multiple law enforcement agencies had busted an alleged heroin ring that included a Coeur d’Alene physician put a local point on the severity of the problem nationally.

At least 28,648 people in the U.S. died of causes linked to opioid drugs in 2014, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, almost as many as are killed annually in car crashes. The class of drugs includes heroin and prescription painkillers such as oxycodone.

A CDC report released last year revealed the number of U.S. heroin users has grown by nearly 300,000 over a decade.

Haug said heroin has surpassed methamphetamine as the most common drug behind marijuana in the community.

PFPD processed no heroin into its evidence storage in 2010, but it obtained 20 heroin items in 2013, 19 in 2014 and 21 in 2015 (the numbers do not reflect heroin-related medical calls).

Haug said he’s aware of several heroin-related deaths across Kootenai County around the time that Cathryn died. Investigations into some of those cases, including Cathryn’s death, continue.

Haug said his department receives heart-wrenching calls on almost a weekly basis from families of those using heroin who are desperate for help.

“But many times the users don’t want help,” he said. “The challenge for us is that we can’t knock down doors and force people to get help, but we point them and their families in the right direction when there’s opportunities.”

Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger said the rise in heroin has a ripple effect in the community, from law enforcement to substance abuse councils to the mental health sector.

“It’s not just a law enforcement problem; it’s a community problem,” he said.

Dr. Joseph Abate, medical director at the nonprofit Heritage Health, said he believes one reason heroin has regained momentum is because it’s cheaper than some prescription painkillers.

“That’s an attraction to people who are using opioids without a doctor’s recommendation,” Abate said. “But people who have been on opioids with a doctor’s recommendation turn to heroin too because they have a problem with tolerance to pain, especially younger people. They may start on low doses of pain medication, then they take more and more to get the same amount of relief. It may not make sense to you or I, but to patients who are trying to get relief . 

“Part of the rise of heroin is that people start on painkillers for legitimate reasons and then it just gets out of control. In the past people received the message that pain could be controlled with the right dosage, but now we’ve learned the hard way that it does nothing more than make a person worse over the long term rather than better.”

Spirit Lake Police Chief Keith Hutcheson said as prescription drugs have become more regulated in response to the rise in addictions, people revert to illegal drugs such as heroin. It’s a vicious cycle, he said.

“Instead of buying pills on the street, they’re now buying heroin because it’s cheaper and they can get a higher high for a longer time,” Hutcheson said.

Combating the epidemic

One of the ways Heritage Health is trying to right the ship when no opioid is enough is to educate on “mindfulness-based solutions.”

“It’s thinking of pain differently, just something you learn to deal with,” Abate said. “It’s not us saying that pain is all in your head. What we’re saying is how you perceive your pain makes a difference in what you search for as the solution.”

Part of the program is sharing with others how pain affects your daily life and how you label it.

“A lot of people don’t have a chance to tell about how it affects your life,” Abate said.

Abate said if the only weapon in one’s toolbox to fight pain is opioids, it’s not likely you’ll find relief in a fashion that will allow you to live a reasonable life. Mindfulness solutions, exercise, physical therapy and acupuncture are other tools people can use to treat pain.

“There are better ways to treat pain rather than assuming the only thing that will make it go away is pain medicine,” he said. “If people are willing to look at why the pain is not very well-controlled, we can offer them other options so they are safely and reasonably treated without fear of an unintentional overdose.”

Abate said while there are good substance abuse treatment programs available, there aren’t a lot of affordable ones. He said providers also need to be educated on who the highest-risk populations are before prescribing medication.

Abate said there has been a push in recent years for providers to monitor patients more closely and lower the maximum doses of painkillers. He said emergency doctors will now often times refer frequent patients back to their primary care providers for pain medication.

At the national level, President Barack Obama will ask Congress for $1.1 billion in his next budget to combat the opioid abuse epidemic, which has emerged as a 2016 campaign issue. The amount Obama wants to spend over two years is slightly more than the $1 billion he’s requested to expedite cancer treatments.

“Prescription drug abuse and heroin use have taken a heartbreaking toll on too many Americans and their families while straining resources of law enforcement and treatment programs,” the White House said in a statement.

Abate said the number of people who seek urgent medical care after using heroin is limited.

“We usually don’t see them,” he said. “They don’t wander into the clinic looking for care. They’re more likely to be found by law enforcement.”

Lisa Aitken, Kootenai Health spokeswoman, said there also hasn’t been an increase in people coming to the hospital’s emergency room with heroin-related issues.

“That’s definitely not to say that the use of heroin is not on the rise; they are just not making it to the hospital at this point,” she said. “It’s sad to think that there are people not coming to the hospital if they are in need of medical care related to heroin use.”

Schaffner said that since her daughter died, young women who have struggled or have been tempted have gravitated toward her for support.

“You need to have open communication with your kids and you’ve got to know where they are at,” she said. “If they think you are overbearing, too bad. It’s for their own good.”

Schaffner said she still struggles with what caused Cathryn to make a “foolish choice.” She said her faith and two other daughters have helped her from “rolling into a ditch” after the tragedy.

“You’ve got to stay focused on the things you do have,” Schaffner said. “You can’t stop living when other people love you and need you. I have good memories of Cathryn, and I think about her every day. There’s a purpose and reason for things and some day I’ll understand.”

Published via the AP member exchange. 


A look at bills the Wisconsin Legislature is considering: From legalizing conceal-and-carry switchblades to banning fetal tissue research

Wisconsin lawmakers are due to resume the 2015-16 legislative session with a Senate floor debate on Jan. 12.

Majority Republicans are sifting through an agenda that includes bills overhauling the state’s civil service system, banning research on tissue from aborted fetuses and banning transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.

Here’s a look at some other proposals Republicans are trying to push through before the session ends in April:

NUCLEAR POWER: Lifts Wisconsin’s moratorium on new nuclear power plants. The bill’s author, Rep. Kevin Peterson, R-Waupaca, says nuclear power is a clean, affordable option as utilities work to meet new federal greenhouse gas rules. The Assembly is set to vote on the proposal on Jan. 12.

DRUNKEN DRIVING: Republicans are pushing a pair of bills that would require the state Department of Transportation to strip repeat drunken drivers of their licenses for at least a decade and increase maximum prison sentences for repeat offenders.

MANAGED FORESTS: Allows landowners in the state’s managed forest program to close off as much land as they want to the public while still enjoying property tax breaks. Right now, landowners who enroll in the program get huge property tax breaks if they keep their land open to the public for recreation and abide by a timber management plan. Non-industrial landowners can close only 160 acres to the public. Property owners complain the bill doesn’t let them lease closed land to hunters.

FIGHTING HEROIN: Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, has four bills designed to help curb prescription drug abuse in hopes of slowing heroin abuse. Dubbed the Hope Agenda, the bills would require opiate dispensers to enter prescriptions into a statewide database within 24 hours; require police who find an opiate prescription at an overdose scene to enter it into the database; require methadone and pain clinics to register with the state; and require methadone clinics to report staffing rations, patients receiving the medication and average mileage a person travels to the clinic to the state. The Assembly is set to vote on the package Jan. 12.

SCHOOL REFERENDA: School districts would be barred from bringing failed spending referendums back to the voters for a year. Supporters say the measure is about protecting taxpayers from districts’ repeated attempts to pass referendums. School officials are strongly opposed to the proposal, saying legislators shouldn’t tie their hands.

BLAZE PINK: Allows gun hunters to wear fluorescent pink rather than blaze orange. Supporters say the measure will encourage more women to take up hunting and give apparel manufacturers a boost. The Assembly passed the bill in November. The Senate has yet to vote.

HUNTER HARASSMENT: Prohibits people from harassing hunters by remaining in a hunter’s sight, photographing a hunter, using a drone to photograph a hunter or confronting a hunter more than twice with the intent to interfere with or impede their activities. Republicans say they’re worried about hunters’ safety after the Wolf Patrol, a group of animal rights activists, followed and filmed wolf hunters in Wisconsin and Montana in 2014. Opponents say the measure might violate nature lovers’ free speech rights.

WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS: Increases state compensation for the wrongly convicted to $50,000 for every year behind bars with a total payout of $1 million with adjustments for inflation every five years. Wisconsin currently offers people who are exonerated $5,000 per year of incarceration up to $25,000.

LEGALIZING SWITCHBLADES: The Assembly passed a bill that would legalize switchblades and allow people to carry them as concealed weapons in October. The bill is now in the Senate.

GOP lawmaker addresses heroin addiction in Wisconsin in response to daughter’s struggle

A Republican lawmaker whose daughter has struggled with heroin addiction announced Tuesday he plans to introduce another round of legislation focusing on opiate prescriptions that can lead to heroin abuse.

Rep. John Nygren of Marinette spearheaded seven bills designed to curtail heroin abuse and help addicts recover last session. He told reporters during a news conference Tuesday he has four more bills ready to go. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, Dr. Tim Westlake, vice chairman of the state Medical Examining Board and a member of the state’s controlled substance board, and Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel all stood with Nygren in a show of support.

Nygren said the new bills are designed to attack the root of the problem — addictions to opiate prescriptions that pave the path to heroin.

“As we said last session, there were no silver bullets contained in those seven pieces of legislation,” Nygren said. “We knew that we had more that needed to be done.”

The new legislation would require anyone who dispenses opiates to enter the prescriptions in a statewide tracking database within 24 hours rather than the seven days currently allowed under state law. Doctors would be required to check the database before prescribing opiates. Nygren said those moves could help identify addicts and doctors who are overprescribing.

Police who discover an opiate prescription at the scene of an overdose would have to enter the prescription in the database and notify the prescribing physician of the incident.

The package also would create registries for pain and methadone clinics. Nygren said little is known about how such clinics operate.

Nygren’s daughter Cassie has battled a heroin addiction for several years. She was sentenced to a year and a half in prison in 2009. She pleaded guilty this past March to felony narcotic possession and was sentenced to drug court.

Nygren has often cited her story in his push to advance anti-heroin legislation. His bills last session included measures that funded additional treatment facilities; established immediate punishments for parole and probation violators and immunity for anyone who reports an overdose; and allowed first-responders with training to administer Narcan, a drug that counteracts heroin overdoses. Gov. Scott Walker signed the proposals into law last spring after all seven bills passed the Assembly and Senate unanimously.

Myranda Tanck, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Fitzgerald hasn’t discussed the new bills specifically with his caucus but supports efforts “to fight narcotic abuse in Wisconsin.”

Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-Hudson, appeared at the news conference to support Nygren, calling the bills “common sense reforms.” Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, who co-chairs the Legislature’s powerful budget committee with Nygren, issued a statement saying she stands with him, too.

A Walker spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Nygren’s bills.

Nygren said he still wants to address a shortage of treatment beds, detoxification centers that won’t accept active drug users and help recovering addicts stay sober and remain employed. He didn’t offer any details.

Philip Seymour Hoffman dead at 46 of apparent overdose

Academy Award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has died of an apparent drug overdose, according to Reuters and other news services.

The actor, 46, who has spoken publicly about his problems with drug abuse, was found unresponsive on the bathroom floor of his Greenwich Village apartment by police responding to a 911 call.

A police spokesman told Reuters that Hoffman was found with a syringe in his arm and two small plastic bags nearby containing a substance suspected of being heroin.

In a 2006 interview on CBS, Hoffman said he had abused  any drugs “I could get my hands on. I liked it all.”

Hoffman, who was considered one of his generation’s leading actors, won a best actor Oscar for playing gay writer Truman Capote in the film Capote. He also was nominated for three best supporting actor awards.

After making more than a dozen films, Hoffman became famous for playing a lovelorn gay man in 1997’s Boogie Nights, a movie about the porn industry that also made Mark Wahlberg a star.

Hoffman is survived by three children with his partner Mimi O’Donnell.

“We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Phil and appreciate the outpouring of love and support we have received from everyone,” Hoffman’s family said in a statement issued through his publicist.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said via Twitter: “Saddened by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s tragic and untimely passing. Today New York mourns the loss of one of stage and screen’s greats.”

Hoffman appeared last month at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah for the premiere of A Most Wanted Man, an espionage thriller based on a John le Carre novel.