Winnebago County waging war against heroin abuse


OSHKOSH - We're following up on the battle against heroin abuse in Winnebago County.

County law enforcement agencies are making the fight against the drug a top priority.

But they say it's an uphill battle.

"We have a terrible problem with heroin in our area," said Winnebago County Coroner Barry Busby.

And it's an up and down fight for Winnebago County law enforcement.

23-year-old Matthew Martinez of Omro died of a heroin overdose in March. He's one of a growing number of heroin-related deaths in the county.

Thursday Winnebago County Sheriff John Matz announced the arrest of a man from Michigan they suspect sold heroin to Martinez.

"He does have a local address but there is some indication that he is coming here just for that trade, the drug trade."

Matz says he considers the suspect to be a major heroin dealer in the county.

"When you decrease our quality of life we don't want you here and we will hold you accountable."

It's a promise Matz and other Winnebago County law enforcement officials are making good on.

From 2002 to 2010 Winnebago county averaged about 15 drug-related deaths per year.

In 2012 that number rose to 27 from heroin alone.

However with an increased focus on stopping heroin abuse, deaths dropped to 15 last year.

But this year the number of heroin deaths is on the rise again with 10 so far. And Busby says Matthew Martinez's death isn't even the most recent."

"We had seven heroin deaths in a period of five weeks during the period of time this was on on-going investigation."

And Matz says authorities will continue to come down hard on people who deal heroin and other drugs.

"It can be up to an 18-year sentence for the death of someone so it is not worth dealing a small amount of heroin because you could go away for a very, very long time."

A special task force created by the county to help address the heroin problem has met twice since it was formed last year.

It is made up of community leaders and non-profit groups.

One of those areas of emphasis for the task force is on law enforcement. And Matz says it comes with a warning to anyone bringing drugs into Winnebago County.

"Just a message to those drug dealers, don't come here."

That heroin task force is inviting the public to join their efforts. The group's next meeting will be at the Coughlin Center in Oshkosh May 14th.