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No rest here in war on drugs
date: 04-May-2005
editorial comment editorial comment
Thank god they are "winning" the war on drugs.....

By Mark Boxley

The use and sale of drugs in Portage is on the rise and the dog leading the pack is crack cocaine.

"We've seen a large increase in the usage and sales," Detective Dan Pionke of the Portage Police Department said.

The Portage Police Department reported making 110 drug arrests between May 1, 2003, and May 1, 2004, in Portage.

Between 2004 and the present, the number has increased 36 percent, to 150.

In the past year, seizures of crack � an unprocessed form of cocaine that gets its name from the crackling sound it makes when heated � has grown exponentially. In previous years, the amount of crack retrieved during arrests in Portage totaled only a few grams. In 2004, city police confiscated several ounces of the drug.

Crack cocaine has a street value of about $3,000 an ounce, compared to $100 per gram, Pionke said.

"(Crack) has taken over as the main problem drug (in Portage)," he said.

Crack may have displaced OxyContin as the city's most serious drug issue, but OxyContin � a powerful prescription painkiller � and other illegal substances are still making the rounds.

In the whole of Columbia County, crack is still playing second fiddle to OxyContin, said Detective Lt. Wayne Smith of the Columbia County Sheriff's Department.

"OxyContin (use) has gone through the ceiling," he said.

While the Sheriff's Department tries to "discriminate against all drugs equally," Smith said, "OxyContin has been taking up a lot of our time."

The whole spectrum of illegal drugs has been popping up more frequently in the county, Smith said.

"Our (drug arrest) numbers continue to go up each year," he reported. "It's really a county-wide problem."

Some drugs county authorities saw very rarely in the past have started showing up during drug arrests. For instance, heroin is up-and-coming in Portage and Columbia County.

"Heroin has returned fairly strongly," Smith said.

The highly addictive drug, made from the seed pod of the poppy plant, was not something commonly seen in Portage until recently, according to Pionke.

Meth use low, but labs loom

One bullet the county has been able to dodge for the most part is mass production and use of methanphetamines, commonly referred to as meth. In the city of Portage, there were no meth arrests in the last year, Pionke said. During the past five years, the county has had to deal with one or two labs per year, Smith said.

In all, meth arrests in the state have also been relatively low, said Mike Myszewski, director of the Narcotics Bureau for the Wisconsin Department of Justice. About 100 meth labs were raided in the past year in Wisconsin, compared to more than 1,000 in Iowa and several hundred in Minnesota, he said.

"We've been somewhat successful in fending off the problem."

The state has been very aggressive in finding and fighting meth labs, and because of that, Myszewski said, "we've got out ahead of the problem."

The meth issue is not something that can be held off forever, though, he said. Spreading from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area via Interstate 94, builders of meth labs are working to get footholds in Wisconsin, Myszewski said.

"We're going to see more of it in the future," he said. "It's not going to go away."

Marijuana sales advanced through ag science

Another problem drug starting to work itself into Wisconsin is a highly potent form of marijuana called "BC Bud" (named for British Columbia, where it is thought to have been developed).

Like many agricultural products that have been engineered to produce higher yields or to be more durable, "marijuana, in the form of BC Bud, has been made more potent," Myszewski explained.

"It's through the wonders of agriculture," he said.

Common non-cultivated marijuana has a 1 to 3 percent concentration of the active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinols (THC), Smith said. According to Myszewski, in BC Bud, authorities are starting to see THC concentrations from 20-30 percent.

There is also a local type of cultivated marijuana that has a higher potency, Smith said. The female marijuana plant is inherently more potent, he said. The plant produces THC to nourish its seeds. When there is no male plant to fertilize the seeds, they don't use the THC to grow; meanwhile the plant continues to produce the chemical. Growers who know what they're doing can produce marijuana with 12 to 20 percent THC concentrations, Smith said.

"That's what's going on in basements (in Columbia County) all the time," he said.

Marijuana as a gateway drug is already "the No. 1 drug problem in the U.S.," Myszewski said. Highly potent plants make the problem worse, he said.

Wisconsin better off than most states

But the drug picture in Wisconsin is not as dire as many states, Myszewski said.

"We're better off than a lot of places."

In that larger picture, Columbia County's number of drug arrests is higher than the state average per capita. According to a report from the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance, 26,494 drug arrests were made in 2003, the most recent year reported by the OJA. Based on the report's data, the average number of arrests was one per 208 people. In Columbia County the number was one arrest per 169 people.

Compared to counties of similar size, Columbia County also had higher numbers of arrests. The state's most recent estimate of Columbia County's population shows 54,180 people. Chippewa County's population was estimated at 57,850 and had 114 drug arrests in 2003 compared to Columbia County's 321 drug arrests. Grant County, with an estimated population of 50,050, had 180 drug arrests, and Waupaca County, with 52,870 people, had 150 arrests.

County enforcement efforts have had some success at stemming the tide of drugs in the area. Columbia County has received awards from the Cannabis Enforcement and Suppression Effort (CEASE) two years in a row for the number of non-cultivated marijuana plants seized by the Sheriff's Department.

The drug problem remains serious, though, partly because Columbia County's proximity to Interstate 39 puts the area directly on shipment routes used to transport drugs. This could explain the recent surge of drug arrests, Myszewski said, explaining that Wisconsin is "at the end of the (drug traffic) pipeline."

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