What does an addict look like?

Public conference on Heroin information

I was pleased to be the moderator for Week 3 of the “Heroin Highway” lecture series held at Moraine Park’s West Bend campus. This week we heard from Sandy Thompson, whose son died as a result of heroin; Abe Nirschl, an addict in recovery; and Ron Naab, who has been very involved in the Washington County Heroin Task Force. Ron also has a son who is an addict, and recently lost his son’s fiancé to an overdose.

Sandy’s son Joey was killed by a gun shot. Joey apparently shorted his drug dealer $20 and a chase ensued. During the chase Joey was shot and killed by his drug dealer. Sandy talked about the miserable places Joey and others went to buy their heroin. She talked about the lack of counseling he received in prison. She believes there should be more affordable rehabilitation options available for addicts. This is a common message from many of the families that spoke about the epidemic. Prison gets them off the streets and, in most cases, the family does not have to worry about receiving the horrible phone call – but, once released, the addict is as vulnerable, or maybe even more vulnerable, than when they went to prison.

Abe Nirschl spoke next. When I introduced Abe I told the audience that Abe was really one of the first lessons my kids learned about the tragedies of heroin. All of my kids played baseball at the West Bend Little League diamonds. Abe and his father were popular umpires during my kids’ playing days. When we heard that Abe was addicted to heroin it was one of the first times my kids knew or recognized the addict. Abe talked about growing up in a loving family, he attended High School at Kettle Moraine Lutheran and participated in numerous sports, just like hundreds of other Washington County kids. Abe talked about starting with pot in High School, then going to MATC in Madison for College and experiencing heroin. He talked about a friend/roommate of his who injected the heroin in Abe’s arm the first time. At that moment he decided that he would always inject. I want to know what happened to the friend who injected Abe first. Is he dead? Is he in prison? Does he realize what a nightmare he started for the family? Abe went downhill fast and he soon returned to Jackson, hoping that being away from Madison would help.

It didn’t. He got worse.

He lied and stole his way out of the house numerous times. He collected felonies like they were misdemeanors. Abe looks like any other person you would see around West Bend. He doesn’t look like what I thought an addict would look like. He has been clean since Sept. 20, 2016. He has a long recovery ahead.

Ron Naab closed the evening talking about the work he has been doing for the Washington County Heroin Task Force. Ron has been affected not only by his son, who is currently in prison, but also by his son’s fiancé, who recently died of an overdose. Ron urged people to get involved. Heroin effects all of us, it does not discriminate on the basis of wealth or skin color. Good people end up getting addicted to heroin – good people with good families. We are in the middle of an epidemic. It’s time for action.

Want to come to our next lecture in the Heroin Highway Series? Here’s the remaining schedule:

All sessions start at 6 p.m.

February 16: Celebrating Recovery & Legislation
Celebrate recovery and discussion on legislation that has passed.
February 23: Heroin Simulation
Observe how destructive heroin is on the body. Watch a health education simulator mannequin react to the drug and how an ER would respond.

The Heroin Highway Lecture Series is part of Hidden in Plain Sight interactive display. The display features a teenager’s bedroom with many items hidden or in plain view that helps to identify areas where teens may hide drugs, alcohol and other paraphernalia.  It also points out household items that can be used to either cover up drug and alcohol abuse or can be used to facilitate drug and alcohol use.

For more information, click here.

Written by Peter Rettler
Dean of the West Bend Campus