MENOMINEE - Heroin continues to be an unwelcome issue in both Menominee and Marinette counties, where law enforcement continue to combine forces to combat the illegal drug that has led to death, prostitution and child neglect.
"This is very critical. We are working very diligently on the heroin problem in our area," said Menominee County Sheriff Kenny Marks, explaining there's been a significant increase in drug activity in the region - specifically heroin - during the past four years.
Local police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecuting attorneys have been sharing information and resources to try to stop illegal drugs from coming into the area. A Crime Stoppers tip line for Marinette County expanded to include Menominee County on Tuesday.
"We're working to cut off Chicago and Milwaukee drug trafficking and also stop drugs coming from lower Michigan and Marquette," Marks said. Drugs are also arriving from the state line bordering Minnesota.
"We're dedicated to not allowing criminals to use the border to skirt law enforcement... and escape prosecution," said Marks.
Heroin is coming into the local region because it sells for more money here than in Chicago and Milwaukee, noted the sheriff. The narcotic is also very addictive which encourages continued illegal sales, he added.
An indication that controlled substances are a problem in the region is that the majority of inmates at the Menominee County Jail are behind bars because of drugs or drug-related crimes such as larcenies, break-ins and armed robbery, said Marks.
Many inmates come in addicted to drugs, including heroin, he said.
"Most are drug dependent on alcohol, prescription drugs or narcotics," said Marks, explaining that many addicts are detoxed in the jail. Others may go to the local emergency room.
Caring for addicts puts an added strain on jail personnel as well as the department's budget, the sheriff said, adding, "This also has a huge impact on all social services and the private sector."
In addition, potential employees from the area are not being hired for local jobs because they cannot pass required drug tests, said Marks.
"We want to see the addict get clean and heroin curbed in our communities," he said.
Because of the increasing negative effects of drugs on the area's economy, different entities have been working together including hospitals, local business leaders, social services agencies, and drug and alcohol counselors, said Marks.
People are tired of the local drug problems and tired of the drug activity and want to do something about it, he commented.
Law enforcement officials who have joined forces to fight local drug problems - in particular heroin - includes sheriffs from Marinette and Menominee counties, police chiefs from Marinette and Peshtigo, and prosecuting attorneys from Marinette and Menominee counties.
Menominee City has an officer assigned to the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team also known as UPSET, noted Marks.
By working in conjunction, police agencies are making progress with drug investigations including undercover operations, he said.
Undercover agents are saying it's getting more difficult to buy heroin, said Marks, adding that enforcement efforts are making a difference but they are also consuming a lot of each department's resources.
Marinette County Sheriff Jerry Sauve said his department has an officer assigned full-time to the Northeast Tri-County Drug Enforcement Group, which is working with the Menominee County Wide Drug Enforcement Team as well as other agencies.
"This issue knows no boundaries," Sauve said, describing the regional heroin problem as "prevalent, no doubt about it."
"This heroin has really gotten a hold down here," he added, saying law enforcement and communities must continue to work together and maintain diligence to fight it.
Like Menominee County, heroin is affecting employers' ability to hire clean drug-free workers in Marinette County, said Sauve.
Users are dying from drug overdoses while children and pets are being neglected because of the narcotic; young girls have even resorted to prostitution to pay for their next heroin fix, he said.
This summer, cooperative police efforts resulted in the arrest of 15 individuals on charges of delivery of heroin, maintaining a drug house or a drug vehicle, and possession of heroin with intent to deliver.
Marks said, "This was a culmination of a lot of undercover work and months of hard work."
The subjects arrested range in age from 23-51 years and are from Marinette, Menominee, Oconto County, Wis., and Waukegan, Ill.
Marks said he's encouraged by the efforts of the community and the police agencies joining forces.
"We have to fight, otherwise young people die," he said citing fatal drug overdoses in the area.
Citizens with information about the illegal use, possession, or sale of controlled substances are encouraged to contact local police or the Crime Stoppers for Marinette and Menominee counties at 1-800-427-5857 or 1-715-735-5111. Tips are sometimes awarded cash.
Tips can also be texted at "Marinette" with the message to 274637 (Crimes). More information is available at www.tipsubmit.com.