CHICAGO (AP) — Jess Przybylski had never really dealt with loss. Then the father of her children was killed in a car crash. In 2011, her friends offered her methamphetamine to distract from the grief.
after, Przybylski lost her job. Her two children were taken from her
once, then once more when she was caught faking a drug test. A growing
rap sheet eclipsed her college degree as she lost cars, relationships —
and nearly her life.
“It was a one-time thing, and that was it,” Przybylski, who lives in Chippewa Falls in northwest Wisconsin, says of her meth addiction. “It started out slow, but it was a pretty hard downward spiral for about five years . It gets to be where it just takes over your life and it’s not fun anymore. It’s all you think about.”
other amphetamines, meth elevates dopamine levels in the brain,
creating a rush. But it is significantly more powerful than stimulants
like cocaine, says Timothy Easker, director of Chippewa County
Department of Human Services.
Meth can keep individuals awake for days on end, causing psychosis and even organ failure.
the widely known opioid epidemic killed 3,800 people in Wisconsin
between 2014 and 2018, a surge in meth use has quietly supplanted
opioids in western and northern parts of the state, according to service
providers and public health officials.
The State Crime Laboratory
handled 1,452 meth cases in 2018 — an increase of more than 450% since
2008. The number far exceeded the 1,055 heroin cases handled by the lab
Oct. 4, federal authorities in Madison announced that 16 people from
Wisconsin and Minnesota were charged with state and federal counts of
allegedly distributing meth in the Wausau area.
Midwestern states, where police shut down hundreds of meth labs a year,
in Wisconsin, the problem is more hidden. Much of the meth used here
originates in Mexico and is transported to the Twin Cities, according to
a 2016 analysis of methamphetamine use and trafficking compiled by
federal and state law enforcement officials.
The drug can be in the form of powder, crystals or pills and can be smoked, snorted or injected.
Weix, director of substance abuse services at Marshfield Clinic’s
Family Health Center, says that when she started treating addiction in
central and northern parts of the state in the 1980s, alcohol, “nerve”
pills, marijuana, cocaine and heroin were the most common. Then, in the
early 1990s, meth appeared. Its prevalence rose, then ebbed when the
opioid epidemic hit.
Now she is again seeing increasing numbers of people with meth addictions.
Morrison, executive director of the National Association of State
Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, says meth’s resurgence reminds him of
the movie “Groundhog Day.” Ironically, some people are using meth to
help with withdrawal from opioids. Others are using it because it is
cheap and available.
“It’s about the buzz,” Easker says. “People use drugs for the buzz, and people get the most bang for their buck with (meth).”
to grant guidelines, more than $60 million in state and federal dollars
that have been released to combat opioid misuse cannot be used to
mitigate this new crisis.
Health care providers say they should be granted flexibility in how they use these funds.
should be the providers who are in the trenches everyday that should
have a voice in determining what the needs are,” says Saima Chauhan,
clinical team manager at Journey Mental Health Center in Madison. “We’re
the ones every day .. seeing individuals and families that are
suffering so tremendously from the effects of addiction.”
says widespread addiction to pain pills and heroin prompted Congress to
direct a “historic investment” to combat the opioid epidemic. According
to federal budget figures, Congress has appropriated at least $6
billion in the past five years for prevention, treatment and research.
has received $63 million in federal grants specifically targeted to
opioid prevention and medication-assisted treatment, according to the
state Department of Health Services.
Morrison says the nation was
facing “shocking conditions” and needed a “jolt to the system.” He
believes the jolt has been “tremendously helpful.”
But his group
of state substance abuse officials favors more flexible guidelines,
saying states are in the best position to decide where to spend money.
“The goal is to keep additional resources in the system,” he says.
it is, most people in Wisconsin who need substance use disorder
treatment still do not receive it. Less than 10% of the 397,000 people
with addictions from 2016 to 2017 got treatment, according to the latest
National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Services, the mental health agency of Iowa and Grant counties, has
received funding from one federal grant to fight opioid abuse, says
agency director Jeff Lockhart. Although the funds can be used to pay for
a wide range of services, including detoxification and residential
services, grant guidelines require the funds be used only for opioid-use
“We are very, very pleased to get those funds. Those
allow us to do things we otherwise would have difficulty doing,” he
says. “But in contrast . it leaves other substances without that same
level of funding, so that does end up with a disparity.”
of substance abuse prevention and treatment funds in Wisconsin flow
from the federal government. The rest is awarded through county and
state programs such as Heroin, Opioid Prevention and Education. Although
initial HOPE grants established several opioid treatment centers,
recent grants have expanded treatment to include meth.
report by the state Commission on Substance Abuse Treatment Delivery
recommended even looser restrictions, allowing treatment for any type of
An estimated 22,000 people age 12 or older in
Wisconsin used meth in 2016-17, according to the most recent federal
drug use survey. Earlier surveys did not ask specifically about meth.
Other states, including neighboring Minnesota and Iowa, have even higher rates of use.
meth use is surging in places like Eau Claire County, where the number
of meth-related jail bed days grew more than eight-fold between 2011 to
In neighboring Chippewa County, the rise in meth use is
reflected in the numbers of children placed in out-of-home care by Child
Protective Services. In 2014, there were 28 children removed from their
homes. By 2018, that number had grown to 115 children — 93% of whom
were removed for reasons related to meth, says Kari Kerber, child and
families manager for Chippewa County.
Two of these children were
placed in Marcie and Jerry Lindbom’s home in Chippewa Falls, placed in
foster care because of their parents’ meth use.
sees the impact of meth at work, too. As a 4th grade teacher in the
Chippewa Falls School District, she spends time each day dealing with
traumas that her students have experienced. Some are unkempt and
unfocused; others fall asleep because they cannot get rest at home.
like a stone in a pond,” Lindbom says. “The ripple effect of meth may
not feel relevant unless it’s someone really close to you, but that
ripple still reaches all of the people in our county.”
can be directly affected by their parents’ meth use, metabolizing the
drug by inhaling it or absorbing its residue through their skin, Kerber
says. When smoked, meth is like cigarette smoke but heavier. It gets
everywhere, clinging to furniture, clothing and bedding, she says.
opioids have taken center stage, Journey’s Chauhan says meth has been
“hiding in the closet” in southern Wisconsin, in part because of the
lower risk of overdose.
“It’s starting to trickle south,” Chauhan says. “It’s a Wisconsin thing, it’s not just a northwest Wisconsin thing now.”
Hill runs a sober-living house for women with opioid addictions in
Dodgeville in southwestern Wisconsin. It has taken a long time for these
grants to reach the area, she says. Without such services, people
struggling with addiction go at it alone.
“You basically white
knuckle it and go through it in hopes that your affected family members
haven’t given up on you,” Hill says.
Three women currently living
at Recovery Pathways’ Opportunity House say they used opioids — and
meth. They say meth use is rampant in southwestern Wisconsin, with few
options for treatment. It is is the only recovery house in Iowa County,
with the next nearest facility in Madison, an hour away.
that funds the house requires the money be used for opioid-related
services, which has resulted in Hill having to turn people away because
they do not have a qualifying addiction.
Hill says the cravings
for meth and opioids are emotionally and physically draining. Jessica
Shepherd started living at the recovery house about a month ago. She
says the cravings for meth — which she used daily since trying it for
the first time — are very difficult to escape.
Ashley Beach used
meth in part so she would have more energy while working night shifts.
She worked nights to provide for her children and is pregnant now.
Children are not allowed in most recovery houses, but Hill says she will
not make Beach leave once the baby is born.
The facility is
funded by a program at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine
and Public Health. Bridget Mouchon-Humphrey, program director for the
Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program Inc., helped write the
grant, which covers Iowa, Lafayette, Grant, Green and Richland counties.
She says the group specified opioids because the drug was in the
But now they are worried about meth, too.
will just bounce to a different drug, and meth seems to be the drug
people are bouncing to. That’s always been the case, it always will be
the case,” she says.
In some ways, treating an addiction to meth is more difficult than opioids.
is no FDA-approved medication to help with meth withdrawal. And it can
take an entire 28-day program to withdraw, making patients unable to
focus on treatment, says Corina Fisher, behavioral care therapist at
Prevea Health in Chippewa Falls.
Fisher says longer-term programs
that span months to a year are “very beneficial” for recovery,
especially for meth, which has a high relapse potential. However,
providers say there are few options for inpatient or long-term care, a
dearth of substance abuse counselors and lack of training in how to
treat meth addiction.
“In some ways, we focus more on the opioids
because there’s ways to solve the problem. There’s medications, there’s
watching how you’re prescribing it . but with meth, we have very limited
options of how to fully stop it,” Fisher says.
sat in jail for four months until a bed opened up at an inpatient
treatment facility. Accessing treatment is even harder for those who are
not arrested, says Przybylski, who has since regained custody of her
Przybylski says that without longer-term help like she
received, many people leave treatment programs and go back to the life
they were living before. The women at the recovery house in Dodgeville
agree, saying they likely would have relapsed had it not been for
“If you get out and you don’t have anywhere to
go, where are you going to go? Back to what you’re comfortable with and
back to where you were using,” Przybylski says.
By Parker Schorr of Wisconsin Watch, a nonprofit news outlet that provided this article to The Associated Press through a collaboration with Institute for Nonprofit News.