Numerous law enforcement agencies at the federal and local levels coordinated an impressive effort to rid the community of a deadly drug and better yet, the dangerous dealers who peddle this poison.

While the rest of the world battled the raging coronavirus pandemic, these 11 individuals now charged in Rusk County Circuit Court with conspiracy to traffic meth have brought another tragic illness to our doorsteps. Police officers, health-care workers and social agencies can confirm this area is in the midst of a full-blown crisis against methamphetamine and the cost continue to mount in many ways.

Rusk County has been particularly hard hit by meth for many years. For a community that once dealt mainly with the social effects of alcoholism, meth now persists through an increasing number of drug-related arrests that serve as a testament to the hard work being done by law enforcement. Despite this effort, illegal drugs like meth still flow onto our streets, brought here not only by shadowy outsiders but also by some we might consider neighbors who live among us.

Meanwhile, prevention remains focused on just-say-no messaging, a campaign kids are more likely to tune out than turn onto. Experts say it’s more effective to boost children’s social skills and mental health by investing in social activities like sports and the arts. Investments in housing have also been found to save millions of dollars on emergency services.

Hard-core drugs like meth have been a greater concern than most other drugs for decades now. The flow still seems to be from large metropolitan areas such as the Twin Cities to rural, poorer communities like those in Rusk and adjacent counties. As the drugs flow in, local law enforcement and social support agencies can only do so much with their limited resources.

The recently released 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment provides a yearly assessment of the challenges communities face related to drug abuse and drug trafficking. Highlights in the report issued in March include usage and trafficking trends for drugs such as prescription drugs, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana and hundreds of synthetic drugs. New to this year’s report is the effect of COVID-19 during the first part of 2020.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 83,000 people lost their lives to drug-related overdoses in the 12-month period ending in July of 2020, a significant increase from 2019, when more than 70,000 people died of overdoses.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken much of the focus of local government agencies, spreading thin their resources that also must focus on stopping the flow of illegal drugs.

What we need now  is an even more aggressive effort to stop the continued importation of methamphetamine and other hard illegal drugs to our communities. Efforts should be increased further to catch the big suppliers in addition to the local street dealers.

Eleven individuals are now charged with a conspiracy to sell meth in Rusk County following an investigation led by the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) and the Rusk County Sheriff’s Office. They were assisted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Office, Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office (Minn.), Ladysmith Police Department, Plover Police Department, Portage County Sheriff’s Office, Red Wing Police Department (Minn.), Washington County Sheriff’s Office (Minn.), Central Wisconsin Drug Task Force, Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and the Wisconsin Statewide Intelligence Center. The lead investigators are Rusk County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Riley Kummet and DCI Special Agent Shawn Sutherland.

The prosecution is led by Rusk County District Attorney Annette Barna. The case was also supported by DOJ regional drug prosecutor Assistant Attorney General Chad Verbeten. These regional prosecutors were created by 2017 Wisconsin Act 261, part of the HOPE legislation, to assist local law enforcement with major criminal investigations such as complicated drug conspiracies. The state prosecutors collaborate with law enforcement to develop investigative strategies and support local district attorneys with valuable caseload assistance and a level of expertise in drug conspiracy prosecutions.

It is impressive so many law enforcement agencies at the federal and local levels can coordinate such a massive effort to rid the community of a deadly drug and better yet, the dangerous dealers who peddle this poison. It will take even more resources to keep making a difference.


Ladysmith News editorials are written by news staff.

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