RACINE COUNTY — Last year in Racine County, 21 people died from drug overdoses, and eight deaths were heroin-related, according to statistics released by the Racine County Medical Examiner’s office.
“It’s becoming our newest epidemic,” said Sgt. Scott Krogh, who is in charge of the Racine County Metro Drug Unit. “You will find that nationwide.”
In the past, crack used to be the drug of choice, but now in Racine County, heroin is becoming more prevalent, Krogh said.
The users often start abusing prescription drugs from medicine cabinets. But pills are harder to get than heroin, Krogh said. They often have to “doctor shop” and find one willing to give out the prescription. Eventually they start using heroin.
Racine County Medical Examiner Michael Payne said in the past year he has seen a spike in heroin-related deaths.
“(There’s) definitely a noted presence,” Payne said. However, he did not have statistics from past years readily available.
One of those deaths last year was 49-year-old Glen Jaskulske, a Racine man who at the time was working as an engineer at Gifford Elementary School.
He was found dead in June inside a room at the Riverside Inn Motel, 3700 Northwestern Ave.
Toxicology results later indicated he had heroin in his system, and the cause of death was determined to be a mixed drug overdose. Since then, his 23-year-old son, Adam, and another Racine man, Aaron N. Mianecki, 26, have both been charged with first-degree reckless homicide by delivery of drugs in connection to Jaskulske’s death.
Payne said already this year there has been one confirmed heroin-related death and another pending toxicology results.
The confirmed heroin-related death occurred Feb. 19 and was another case of a man found dead in a hotel. He was 51 and from Minnesota, Payne said. He was found at the Knight’s Inn, 1149 Oakes Road.
But there is no one-size-fits-all description of these users.
It’s young people, and also middle-aged men and women. Some are from the inner city and others are from the west end of the county.
The case pending toxicology results involves a 27-year-old man from Burlington found dead in early February in his apartment, Payne said. Heroin is also suspected in that death.
While there are eight deaths confirmed to be related to heroin last year, there could have been a lot more, said Nick Hempel, the Racine Fire Department’s EMS division chief.
But the city’s ambulances are equipped with the life-saving drug Naloxone, also known as Narcan, which counteracts the effects of narcotics such as heroin. When paramedics respond to a scene and see someone lying unconscious with drug paraphernalia around and track marks on their arms, they can give them a dose of the drug. It can wake them up in seconds, Hempel said. Last year, paramedics administered the drug 56 times to help people with overdoses, Hempel said.
But he said the effects of heroin are dangerous because it can knock out the respiratory drive and there are times the drug cannot save lives.
“When you stop breathing, everything else follows,” Hempel said.
Through the metro drug unit, police are trying to curb the heroin problem in the community. They arrest people and then try working with them as informants, Payne said. Then they can move up the food chain and try to get the big suppliers, he said.
But that is not always easy with heroin addicts.
“The heroin addicts don’t make the best informants because they are addicted,” Krogh said, “and going to keep using.”
A quote in this story was incorrectly attributed. The error has been corrected.
By the numbers - 2012 overdose deaths:
21: Accidental drug overdose deaths
8: Overdose deaths connected to heroin
3: Overdoses ruled suicides
2: Possible overdoses pending toxicology results
Source: Racine County Medical Examiner’s office