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Heroin in Hudson: not just in big cities anymore

HPD Chief Marty Jensen, left, and Det. Sgt. Geoff Willems

When baby boomers think about heroin and who uses it, it is unlikely that young adults in Hudson come to mind. But that's exactly who is using the drug these days according to Hudson police.

In the past year, Hudson police have arrested seven people for selling heroin and other controlled substances in the city. In the past two years, there have been four deaths as a result of overdose and twice that number in the larger Hudson area. The most recent was that of Tyler Hole, a Hudson High School graduate who died in a River Falls apartment last month. While the medical examiner's report has not confirmed it, police suspect that he died of a heroin overdose.

"They aren't like the heroin addicts of the 70s, shooting up in back alleys," said HPD Det. Sgt. Geoff Willems. "Now it is more about people who become addicted to prescription painkillers (like Oxycodone and Vicodin). They have the same opium base as heroin and heroin is a lot cheaper than the prescription pills."

Average users in Hudson are between the ages of 19-24 and they cut across all socio-economic groups in the community. The average cost of a one milligram dose of a narcotic painkiller is $50. An equivalent single dose of heroin costs $20, a substantial savings to an addict. The heroin being sold in Hudson is also very potent according to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency. Most of the heroin being supplied to Hudson users, commonly referred to as "black tar," originates in the Middle East, most often from Afghanistan.

According to Willems and Jensen, the dealers or suppliers in the city are often addicted themselves and end up supplying their friends. "They all have the same lifestyle and they end up providing it for their friends. There are a handful of them out there who have a connection in the Twin Cities. They contact the people they know here and ask if they want to place an order. The dealer then meets them, collects the money, places the order, picks it up and then delivers it back here," said Willems.

He estimates that there are about 10 people who are supplying at least 100 others in the area.

HPD lost an investigator's position in the last round of budget cuts so the department does not have a designated drug detective. Willems and Investigator Jeff Knopps handle all investigations for the department including drug cases.

Jensen said that the collaboration HPD has with the drug task force of St. Croix, Pierce and Polk counties has been vital in the investigations and arrests made in the city and throughout the Hudson area.

Willems said the task force takes a comprehensive approach to the drug problem in the three-county area. They have had success in the past dealing with the methamphetamine problem in western Wisconsin which has lessened considerably in the last several years.

Authorities use a combination of things to investigate and build a case against those using and dealing in drugs including information from tips, search warrants and the use of confidential informants. "Simple possession arrests can result in useful information that moves us up the chain. The DEA has a saying -- from the arm to the farm," said Willems.

"We get calls from friends or family members who are concerned about someone they think is in trouble or addicted. We take those very seriously. They can lead us to the dealers and hopefully to the suppliers," said Jensen.

Being a border community makes things a little more complicated for Hudson police and the task force. "Whenever you are working across state lines, it gets trickier. You need a lot of manpower to keep track of things," said Willems.

Both men believe the community would be surprised by the number of young people who are addicted in the Hudson area and they all know where to get the drugs they need. Even with the arrests, they believe there are still several dealers selling in the city and even more in the wider Hudson area.

They want to get the word out that heroin addiction can kill. Said Willems, "It is a very dangerous drug. It's easy to overdose and withdrawing from it is painful and difficult. There is help for it. You just need to ask."

For more information about the heroin problem in Hudson or to talk confidentially with an investigator call (715) 386-4771.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

(715) 808-8604