State attorney general holds roundtable discussion in Rhinelander
Brad Schimel meets with law enforcement and community leaders
BY KEVIN BONESKE
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel came to Rhinelander on Friday to hold a roundtable discussion at the Oneida County Law Enforcement Center to talk about issues related to drugs and mental health with law enforcement and community leaders in the county.
“This drug addiction is driving everything,” Schimel said. “The costs you heard about today at this meeting are the same thing we’re hearing at every county. If we don’t address prevention, this is going to bury us financially, and unfortunately it’s already burying us from a human standpoint.”
Schimel said meeting with local officials provides him with input on both challenges and the good things that are happening throughout the state.
“We heard a few things today that I’m really intrigued by,” he said. “We’re going to explore more (of) the potential with what human services is doing to attract parents into strengthening family programs, with what law enforcement at the Rhinelander Police Department is doing to go out and develop a relationship with a person that they know is a drug user, to start building a supportive relationship that is resulting in folks actually turning to law enforcement, turning to human services for help at times.
“That kind of relationship-building takes more time and effort. But it’s also going to take a lot of time and effort, and it’s going to be a terrible toll on the community, if this person does not succeed.”
Schimel said he is listening to concerns expressed about being able to have more flexibility as to when grants could be used and implemented. A common concern expressed by the county officials on hand related to being able to intervene early enough to prevent problems such as drug use.
County social services director Mary Rideout said more than half of the cases her department deals with are drug-related, while sheriff Grady Hartman noted around 70-80 percent of the inmates in the county jail have been involved with using methamphetamine.
Schimel said preventing drug use involves more than trying to stop the supply of illegal drugs.
“If you just think that you can stop this problem by stopping the drug dealers from coming in alone, you’re going to lose, because as long as there are people with the demand who are willing to pay money to buy the drugs, someone will bring them to your community,” he said. “And you’ll lock them up, and more will come back and fill (the jail). We have to work on prevention. We have to get the people who are struggling with addiction into treatment that is effective.”
A common concern expressed by county officials about access to mental health beds related to a shortage of treatment facilities locally and the expense and time involved when having to send someone to a state treatment facility.
Schimel said the concern of mental health being an issue has been expressed in counties throughout the state except La Crosse, where there is a locked behavioral health unit at a hospital.