CREATED Feb. 27, 2013
MILWAUKEE - A scene is becoming all too familiar in Milwaukee and many of its suburbs. In one local county, it kills more people than car crashes. The heroin epidemic is infesting neighborhoods, and it should be alarming to all of us.
The impact of heroin abuse in Wisconsin is far reaching. Heroin is easy to get, highly addictive and many feel there's no end to this nightmare.
"He truly did not want to be an addict," said Julie Berg.
Berg is talking about her son Tyler Herzog. He died last year just weeks before his 26th birthday.
"He was intelligent and he could make the room laugh," she recalls.
From the little boy who loved bugs, Julie never believed her son would become addicted to heroin.
"When I found he was using I would turn him in if he took money from me," she said. "I would definitely report that."
Tough love meant 12 different rehab programs and kicking Herzog out of the house. And it was working.
"My last year with him was so wonderful," she said.
Herzog was clean, but an argument with his girlfriend lead him back to heroin. He used once and overdosed.
Herzog is part of a growing epidemic with no end in sight. Law enforcement is doing what it can in this war.
"It's easy to get heroin if you're looking for it," said Lieutenant Colin Hughes with the West Allis Police Special Investigations Unit.
When we caught up with the unit they were on Milwaukee's south side serving two search warrants just four blocks apart. They go where the drugs are, and much of the heroin problem in West Allis is coming out of this area of Milwaukee.
In this bust they arrest a female, what Lieutenant Hughes calls a street-level dealer. The unit also rounded up a good amount of heroin worth more than $1200 on the street.
It's a problem that's far reaching says Lieutenant Hughes.
"It's a health and human service issue," he said. "It's a legislative issue in terms of how we want to deal with these crimes."
Up north they are seeing more heroin in Dodge County.
"We're finding it in little bits and pieces all over the county, everywhere" K9 handler Deputy Chad Enright said.
Enrigh is part of the Dodge County Sheriff Department's interdiction team. They go out looking for users on Highway 41, making traffic stops and searching suspicious vehicles. The K9's are not always hitting on heroin but evidence of it.
"We're finding just the remnants of the needles just the rubber bands, the bloody paper towels that are laying in their cars," Deputy Enright points out.
In Dodge County they've reached the point where there are more deaths from heroin than traffic accidents.
The numbers tell the story. In Waukesha County there were 19 related heroin overdoses in 2012. In 2008. just seven cases.
So why the increase? More people are getting hooked on prescription narcotics then move to heroin because it's cheaper. And how you get high has changed.
"You can snort the heroin and get the same effect as if you were to inject it," drug counselor Pat Gutierrez said.
She's been a drug counselor for 17 years. Gutierrez says heroin is like the cocaine epidemic in the 80s, and it's destroying lives.
"I see so many young people 19, 20 years old and they are using all day long, and they haven't even started their life yet," she said.
Tyler Lybert lost his childhood to drugs. He started using at 11.
"It got to a point where I didn't care if I woke up the next morning," he said.
Ten years later he got clean, but snorting heroin left him with a lot of health problems. Lybert's addiction also tore apart his family.
"I hated him for a long time," his sister Ashleigh Nowakowski said. "My parents fought all the time. he would lie straight to our face."
Now a dad, Lybert's been clean almost Four years. But what almost killed him, could save others. Lybert and his family share their stories through the "Your Choice" program helping other kids walk away from drugs.
"I know for a fact our stories are impacting kids I know it," Lybert said.
And Berg has a tough message for other parents. Live in the reality because it could be your child sucked into this addiction.
"It's the intelligent kids, it's the honor roll students like my son was that are taking that risk," she said.
Heroin is highly addictive. It can only take once to get hooked, and once that happens it's a tough cycle to break. Only one out of 10 heroin users live a sober life after treatment.