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Heroin and opioid addictions -- and overdoses -- continue to plague Wisconsin and many other states. Public health officials and law enforcement agencies have been tackling the problem on a number of fronts.  The latest here in Wisconsin premiered Tuesday night.  It's a documentary produced by WisconsinEye, the state's equivalent to C-Span, and targets children.  

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U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants longer prison sentences for people who commit federal drug crimes. Late last week, he directed U.S. attorneys to seek the most serious charges possible. Sessions says tough action is needed to address the spike in violence in some cities and the opioid epidemic. Jerome Dillard spent time in both federal and state prison, and is now the Wisconsin director of Expo – Ex-prisoners Organizing. It works to end mass incarceration and help former offenders lead productive lives.

Updated at 12:10 p.m. ET

In a memo to staff, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to "charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense" — a move that marks a significant reversal of Obama-era policies on low-level drug crimes.

The two-page memo, which was publicly released Friday, lays out a policy of strict enforcement that rolls back the comparatively lenient stance established by Eric Holder, one of Sessions' predecessors under President Barack Obama.

SHARYN MORROW, FLICKR

Another set of bills aimed at combating Wisconsin’s opioid and heroin addiction problem are now headed to Governor Walker. On Tuesday, the state Senate, in a special session, overwhelming supported the measures, even though Democrats argue the plans don’t go far enough.

Rachel Morello

UPDATE: A Senate committee has approved the bill that would create a state-operated recovery high school in Wisconsin. The proposal calls for a pilot charter school program, that could open as early as the fall. 

The matter moves next to a full vote on the Senate floor. 

Original post: March 27, 2017

Think back to the challenges you faced as a teenager -- things like homework, hormones, peer pressure. These days, more teens than ever before have another concern tacked onto that list: addiction.

Nearly 1.5 million Americans were treated for addiction to prescription opioids or heroin in 2015, according to federal estimates, and when those people get seriously hurt or need surgery, it's often not clear, even to many doctors, how to safely manage their pain. For some former addicts, what begins as pain relief ends in tragedy.

Update:

On Tuesday, the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office attributed two additional deaths to the powerful drug carfentanil, following the first, on Monday.

Gandelina Damião, 78, is permanently hunched, carrying her sorrow. She lost three children to heroin in the 1990s.

A quarter century ago, her cobblestone lane, up a grassy hill from Lisbon's Tagus River, was littered with syringes. She recalls having to search for her teenagers in graffitied stone buildings nearby, where they would shoot up.

"It was a huge blow," Damião says, pointing to framed photos on her wall of Paulo, Miguel and Liliana. "I was a good mother. I never gave them money for drugs. But I couldn't save them."

SHARYN MORROW, FLICKR

Hundreds of people in Wisconsin die each year from heroin or prescription painkiller overdoses. Milwaukee's city and county leaders are beginning a combined effort to curb opioid abuse. 

They believe they can accomplish more together than on their own. On Friday, the City-County Heroin, Opioid and Cocaine Task Force will hold its first meeting at City Hall.

LaToya Dennis

Across Milwaukee County, heroin is killing people. Last year, more than 140 people succumbed to the drug. For years now, lawmakers have been passing legislation and convening groups - hoping to come up with new ways to tackle the growing problem.

Tuesday, WUWM spoke with a man who described his struggle to break the addiction. Today, we sat down for dinner with a group of 12 men enrolled in treatment at Serenity Inns on Milwaukee’s north side.

tibor13 / Fotolia

Call it what you will: sizzurp, purple drank or lean. They’re all the same. The cough syrup mixture has been a popular drug in some circles for decades, and it’s making a resurgence here in Milwaukee.

The substance is the subject of an article in this month's Milwaukee Magazine, written by freelancer Eben Pindyck. 

LaToya Dennis

Last year in Milwaukee County, heroin killed at least 143 people. That was a nearly 30 percent increase over the previous year. Most health officials agree, addictions to opioids and heroin are continuing to worsen. WUWM caught up with a recovering heroin addict who’s now helping others struggling with addiction.  

Jason Dobson calls himself one of the lucky ones. He had been addicted to heroin and knocking at death’s door.

Wisocnsin Department of Justice

The rate of heroin use in Wisconsin has hit epidemic levels. In 2016, more people died in Wisconsin from overdosing on opioids than in car accidents.

mementosis, flickr

On Thursday, the City of Milwaukee announced the first-ever Drug Mail Back Program. It will allow you to easily dispose of unused or unwanted prescription drugs stashed in your medicine cabinet. At select CVS pharmacies, you will find envelopes addressed to the police department. In them, you can pour unwanted medicines and drop the envelopes in the mail.

“While in one way, it is just a small initiative, it is certainly a vital one to stemming this growing crisis,”  says Milwaukee Alderman Jim Bohl.

Victoria М / Fotolia

Over the past few days, WUWM has examined the issues surrounding the addiction crisis in Wisconsin and the many people it affects – beyond those addicted.

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