By Scott Parks, Marathon County Sheriff

In October 2019, the Central Wisconsin Narcotics Task Force announced a groundbreaking investigation into a methamphetamine (meth) trafficking ring responsible for bringing untold amounts of deadly drugs into Wisconsin. As Marathon County Sheriff, I joined federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to form the task force, a federally funded Transnational Organized Crime Task Force intended to address the impact of drug trafficking organizations in Central Wisconsin. After just over a year, the task force has made progress in the battle against drug abuse, but more work needs to be done to overcome the growing problem in our area.

Marathon County Sheriff Scott Parks said his department is one of several stepping in to help serve Everest Metro residents while department members grieve the loss of Detective Jason Weiland.

The drug abuse crisis is a grave threat that should concern everyone in Central Wisconsin. Meth use is on the rise and one of the biggest threats to our community. Meth is deadlier, easier to access, and cheaper than ever before. It is typically made in Mexican drug labs and transported to the area via the Twin Cities.

Given these Mexican-based distribution channels, our area is also at serious risk from an influx of the deadly synthetic opioid, fentanyl. Already, even before a potential spike, fentanyl was involved in all but one of the seven overdose deaths in Marathon County this year. The drug takes so many lives because it is 50 times as potent as heroin and can be deadly in a dose as small as a few grains of salt.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has found that black-market fentanyl is now fueling the drug abuse crisis. It is typically smuggled across the border by Mexican cartels, which are pumping record-setting amounts into the country. Border agents seized as much fentanyl in the first half of 2019 as they did in all of 2018, which was enough to kill the entire U.S. population.

The result is that the country is going through the most devastating drug overdose epidemic in our history. Prescription opioids are often cited as the driver of this crisis, but overdose deaths from prescription drugs have actually remained flat in recent years. Deaths from fentanyl, on the other hand, have skyrocketed by 520 percent.

These alarming numbers should concern everyone in Central Wisconsin, but what is most alarming is that some reports indicate Mexican drug cartels are moving to dramatically expand their drug trafficking empires. Their goal is to flood the country with more fentanyl, which is more potent, addictive, and easier-to-produce than other drugs. To do this, the cartels mix fentanyl with meth, cocaine, and heroin. Even worse, they mass produce fentanyl-filled counterfeit pills that look like common opiates to addict unsuspecting pain patients and casual drug users.

To keep these deadly drugs from taking hold in our community, everyone can – and must – play a role in fighting drug abuse and addiction.

First, we must be honest about the problem and appreciate that drug addiction cuts across age, gender, race, and class. Everyone is at risk.

Second, we must remember that experimentation of any drug or pill is dangerous. It is impossible to know exactly what is in a drug, and the rise of fentanyl-infused pills and drugs are a scary reminder.

Finally, if you or a loved one are at risk of addiction to any drug, please get help and utilize services that are available locally or call the national substance abuse and mental health helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

Law enforcement at every level in Central Wisconsin are working together to prevent criminal networks from bringing deadly drugs into our area. But to truly win the battle against drug abuse and addiction, we need the entire community to join the fight.

Scott Parks is the sheriff of Marathon County and a member of the Central Wisconsin Narcotics Task Force, a federally funded Transnational Organized Crime Task Force intended to address the impact of drug trafficking organizations in Central Wisconsin.