Greenfield — Patti Lomas came close to tears as she described her son's heroin addiction, which ultimately led to his death.
"He was surrounded by a loving, supportive family," Lomas said, during a community heroin summit held at Whitnall High School Feb. 15. "We felt we were doing everything right and it turned out so wrong."
Her son, CJ, a Whitnall High School graduate, first got drunk in eighth grade. Then came the weekend parties, the marijuana, the pills, the lying and the stealing.
"And, for CJ, that was pretty much it," Lomas said. "That was the beginning of the end."
His downward spiral of drug abuse ended in an overdose on March 18, 2012, despite his numerous stays in rehab facilities and jail.
"When it comes to drugs and addiction, there are no boundaries," Lomas said. "CT was just like every one of your children."
Lomas has since founded the CJ Lomas Recovery Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to drug addiction treatment.
"I care about the drug epidemic in our community and country today and I do not want to see any other family go through what we went through," Lomas said. "And if I can help one person stay away from drugs … then we feel (my son's) death would not be in vain."
Above: Greenfield Police Detective Chuck Fletcher, one of the guest speakers at a recent heroin summit, talks about the dangers of drug abuse Whitnall High School on Monday, Feb. 15. Photo by John Rasche.
Starting the conversation
The heroin summit, titled "Heroin: Not Just Our Neighbors' Problem," included troubling statistics and personal accounts from community members about the dangers of the drug.
The sobering event was sponsored by Forward Thinking Communities, a collaboration between the Whitnall, Greenfield and Greendale school districts. Representatives of the police departments in Greenfield, Hales Corners and Greendale also participated in the summit.
Guest speakers included Greenfield Police Chief Bradley Wentlandt, WISN News Anchor and Talk Show Host Dan O'Donnell and recovering heroin addict Tyler Lybert and his family.
The news was grim.
New data places the death rate of overdose deaths from heroin and opioids — or addictive prescription medicine — at about 15 people per 100,000 in the country, Wentlandt said. Across the nation, more than 30,000 people died from a heroin or opioid last year.
"We are losing an entire generation" to this drug problem, he said.
Over the past eight years, Milwaukee County has seen its own increase in heroin and opioid overdose deaths by almost double, said Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Patricia Daugherty.
In 2009, the county saw 127 fatal overdoses. By 2014, that number reached 251 — an increase of 97-percent in five years, Daugherty said. That's more than triple the number of traffic deaths in 2014.
Also, 65 percent of the overdoses in the county in 2014 involved prescription opioids.
Teens often begin using heroin only after abusing prescription drugs first, either by getting the pills from friends or taking them from family members, Daugherty.
Nearly 20-percent of teens can get prescription pills to get high within an hour, she said. And one in seven teens have admitted using the pills to get high.
An opioid addiction is expensive to maintain at about $25 to $30 a pill, sometimes leading addicts to a cheaper high: heroin.
Close to home
The effects of heroin use are just as startling at the very local level.
Greenfield Police Detective Chuck Fletcher broke down the numbers: 1,129 drug arrests in the city since 2011, including 49 for opioid abuse, 85 for heroin and more than 600 for drug paraphernalia.
The city saw seven homicides within the last five years. Five of them were related to heroin.
Personally, Fletcher made 800 arrests for burglary, theft and drugs over the past five years. He also recovered $1.9 million in stolen property.
Ninety-nine of those crimes and arrests were related to heroin, Fletcher said.
"This isn't just a problem in Greenfield or Greendale or Hales Corners — this is coast to coast, it's a problem we're all dealing with," Fletcher said.
Above: Social media recap of the summit. Hover over each slide to learn more information.
Every guest speaker at the heroin summit conveyed the same message: get help while you still can.
"If you're addicted to these drugs, get some help," Fletcher said. "Do not think for a second that you can tackle this on your own."
The CJ Lomas Foundation offers a family support group and numerous resources through its website, as does the Lybert family's organization, Your Choice.
And for parents with teenagers that exhibit signs of drug abuse, "you have to be firm," Fletcher said. "I know it's hard when it's your own kid, I get that, but you have to be firm."
Parents are advised to look for signs of potential drug abuse in their teenagers, such as a sudden lack of money, missing or burned spoons and plastic, grocery bags with cut off corners, often used to make small "baggies" for drugs.
Law enforcement officers also encouraged parents to safeguard their prescription medication by count pills, buying a medicine lockbox or hiding your medicine in a discrete place. Unused medications should be disposed of at "drop-box" locations found within local police stations.
"Please educate yourselves about this problem, don't let the progression begin," Lomas said. "If your child has a problem, intervene and get help before heroin destroys your family."
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