More law enforcement following suspected drug deaths?

File photo (WLUK/Gabrielle Mays)

MANITOWOC - The mayor of Manitowoc wants to turn around the city's growing problem with illegal drugs. Manitowoc police are dealing with heroin, morphine and prescription drug abuse.

So far this year, police have investigated seven possible drug overdose deaths in the city. Three have come in the last 12 days. All of last year, police said they investigated five overdose deaths.

Mayor Justin Nickels said he wants to be proactive about the issue.

"I want to become a community where people around know if you want to deal drugs, you're not going to do it in Manitowoc because you're going to get caught," said Nickels.

The Manitowoc Police Department currently has two detectives currently working with the Manitowoc County Metro Drug Unit. In addition to an extra detective, Nickels wants to add more prescription drug collection sites so people can keep their drugs out of the wrong hands.

"The fact that we're seeing so many overdose deaths is alarming," he said.

David Vorpahl, a detective sergeant with the Manitowoc Police Department, said his department's investigators are strained as the overdose deaths are investigated.

"They have been swamped, because opiates are just taking over," said Vorpahl. "Historically it used to be cocaine and marijuana, but now it's graduated to prescription drugs and people are using it with syringes and things of that nature."

Nickels said the extra detective would cost the city about $100,000 a year. He plans to include the position in his budget proposal for next year.

"We've had financial struggles just like everyone else, but at the end of the day, budgets reflect priorities," said Nickels. "And if this is a serious issue throughout our community, I really don't think you can put a price tag to somebody's life."

Manitowoc Alderman Jason Sladky said he would likely support the extra spending, but he questions if the issue should be approached heavier through the court system.

"I believe that we have a constant cycle," said Sladky. "These people keep churning up that they become a drug enforcement issue over and over again rather than being taken out of society and incarcerated or punished properly to protect our community."

Nickels says the county's district attorney's office is already getting more aggressive as it prosecutes drug users. Meanwhile, police say the public needs to also help with the issue.

"If they recognize their loved ones, that they're showing signs, symptoms of an overdose that they contact 911 and get medical treatment for a friend or family member," said Vorpahl.

Vorpahl said the department has made arrests in two of the overdose death cases this year.