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Talks on curbing opiate use draws large crowds

Presenters of the heroin presentation are (from left) Scott Gillard of the New Berlin Fire Department, Dana Brueck of the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Chris Kohl of the Waukesha County Metro Drug Unit, District Attorney Brad Schimmel; Frank McElderry of Drug Unit; and Linda Lenz of Muskego and recovering addict Conor Brenna.

Presenters of the heroin presentation are (from left) Scott Gillard of the New Berlin Fire Department, Dana Brueck of the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Chris Kohl of the Waukesha County Metro Drug Unit, District Attorney Brad Schimmel; Frank McElderry of Drug Unit; and Linda Lenz of Muskego and recovering addict Conor Brenna.

May 13, 2014

About 600 people came to the "Heroin Crisis in 'The Burbs'" presentations at New Berlin West Middle/High School last week and to Muskego High School on Monday and both those identical presentations were the result of nearly a year of effort triggered by parents and led by Linda Lenz, Muskego.

Lenz who lost her son to a heroin overdose in February 2013, said of the presentations to so many parents, "It made me feel something was accomplished."

But she worried that some parents might have gone home thinking that if they diligently hunt out evidence of heroin use that their children will get treatment and all will be fine. That is far from the case, she said.

By the time parents find things such as aluminum foil or cotton balls, it could be almost too late, she said after the New Berlin presentation.

"You probably have a heroin addict on your hands," she said.

And that means the start of an uphill battle to kick the monster that ends for most people in failure, she said.

"I really want to push prevention," Lenz said. "I really do want them to talk to the little kids." And the anti-heroin message needs to be reinforced every year, Lenz said.

And she doesn't want heroin lumped in with other drugs because a person can become a heroin addict after taking the deadly drug just once, she said.

Lenz was one of the speakers at the presentations, telling her son's story and showing the video she made featuring interviews former heroin addicts.

Several parents said after the New Berlin presentation that her story and that of Conor Brennan, a recovering heroin addict, were powerful. They also agreed with Lenz that warning children at a young age would be helpful.

"I feel strongly that children need to be made aware of this," said Jan Fredrickson, New Berlin, mother of four. "And I agree they are never too young."

If Brennan was only 12 years old when he started, the schools and parents need to get their message in there first, she said.

Tracy Wisialowski, Muskego parent of two elementary students and one who has already graduated from high school, would rather see heroin education start in middle school and continue to hammer it home after that.

"The more the better off the children will be," she said.

Tom Fredrickson, New Berlin, said that like his wife Jan he would like to see drug talks starting in the elementary schools. And when the kids get a little older, he said the two people who would make the most impact would be Brennan and Lenz.

"Those two gave such heart-wrenching stories," Fredrickson said. "And Conor's the one who can reach the kids."

But parents have to do their part, too, he said.

"We've done the sex talk, now we get to do the drug talk," Fredrickson said.

The presentation raised his level of awareness of the heroin problem, he said.

"I guess I was one of those naive ones who live in the suburbs and think we don't have problems here."

His wife Jan agreed, "It definitely was an eye-opener."

She was dismayed at how easy it was for Brennan to get started with drugs so young, Jan said. "I don't think people know how accessible and how easy it is to be persuaded to do these things."

Wisialowski said she fears that the statistics law enforcement has been able to track are just the tip of the iceberg. The statistics are alarming enough and the trend is sharply upward, she said.

Nancy Koehler, Muskego, mother of two who are in their 20s, said she was surprised at how easy it must be for young people to get drugs, judging by how many have been caught.

The Fredricksons and Wisialowski already check their children's electronics and rooms.

"We're pretty open here," Jan Fredrickson said.

"As a parent, you really do have to," Wisialowski said. "You never, never, never know."

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