Heroin logo 1 web fullHeroin permeates Walworth County, devastates users

By Vicky Wedig


“Major and getting worse” is how District Attorney Dan Necci describes the problem with heroin in Walworth County.

Necci and Walworth County Drug Unit Sgt. Jeff Patek say the drug is indiscriminate of age, gender, race or socioeconomic status. Users are teenagers, college students, blue-collar workers and professionals.

“It’s quickly invading all walks of life,” Necci said. “Nobody’s safe.”

They say the drug has permeated the county from Chicago and Milwaukee and is concentrated in no one community. The danger is the stronghold the drug has on its consumer from the first use, and no single approach can eradicate it, they said.
Its beginnings

Patek, whose unit conducts controlled buys of illegal substances throughout the county, said heroin began appearing in Walworth County less than a decade ago and its use has steadily increased over the past five years.

“Ten years ago, we never saw it,” he said.

Confidential informants who work with the drug unit typically buy heroin in doses of 1 gram or less, Patek said. The unit has made a couple of 5-gram purchases, and its largest was a 10-gram purchase in East Troy last year, he said.

A Burlington man was found with nearly half a pound of heroin – 184 grams, in East Troy on Feb. 19. The amount of the drug Phillip J. Zadurski, 42, had makes the offense a Class C felony punishable by up to 40 years in prison and $100,000 in fines. Zadurski, who also had cocaine, marijuana and prescription drugs in his possession, according to the criminal complaint, is scheduled to go on trial Monday.

Unlike users of other drugs who buy a supply that will last them awhile, heroin users are typically buying their heroin one fix at a time, Necci said, and then lying, cheating and stealing to get money to buy their next fix. The amount they buy depends on their level of addiction.

Patek said prescription painkillers, which are synthetic opioids, often lead users to heroin, which is derived naturally from opium.

Whether narcotics are being used for legitimate pain needs or recreationally, “That’s an absolute gateway,” Necci said.

The first time someone uses heroin, they experience an elevated high – a warm, relaxed feeling juxtaposed to the euphoric, high-energy high of other drugs like cocaine, Patek said. The next time they use, they’re unable to achieve the same high, so they increase the amount they use in an attempt to reach that high, he said.

“It creates an addiction unlike anything else,” Necci said.

Users keep chasing that high with greater doses of the drug, which is why heroin use results in many overdoses, Patek said.

Necci said overdoses are also seen when a user switches dealers and doesn’t know what they’re putting into their bodies.

“The very prominent death factor,” Necci said, is one of the things that makes heroin more dangerous than other drugs.

“People overdose on it,” he said. “When you’ve gotten to a certain level of addiction, you don’t care anymore.”

A 21-year-old Lake Geneva man, Codie A. Krueger, died in 2011, after a lethal dose of the drug.

Craig C. Ackney, 39, a Burlington native, died last year from a fatal injection of heroin. The person believed to have provided the drug, Stanley A. Bies, 42, of Union Grove, was sentenced in December to seven years in state prison for first-degree reckless homicide in connection with Ackney’s death.

Patek said neighbors saved a 22-year-old who overdosed on heroin, and Patek talked to him about what life should be like at 22 – “Not sitting at home shooting up heroin,” he said.


How it gets here

Heroin has become inexpensive and easily attainable in Milwaukee and the greater Chicago area, Patek said. Two types of dealers are selling the drug in Walworth County – the user who supports his own habit by selling heroin to a half dozen friends and the more sophisticated seller who is in it for the money, he said.

“These aren’t guys walking around in gold chains with guns,” Necci said about the user sellers. “They’re pathetic.”

The top-level sellers typically don’t use heroin, Patek said. They would likely be unable to run a sophisticated operation under the stupefying effects of the drug, which causes many people to stop going to work, he said. They recruit people to sell for them or drive them to drug deals so they appear less culpable.

The drug unit in February dismantled a heroin-selling ring that Necci and Patek believe will put a significant dent in the amount of heroin coming into the county.

Jamaal T. Shellie, 33, of Waukegan, Ill., and seven of his underlings were arrested in early February after a month-long investigation into their operation.

Shellie’s recruits referred to him as “The Major” and drove him to locations primarily in Delavan and Lake Geneva to sell heroin. Patek said Shellie and his associates were bringing about 7 grams of heroin into Walworth County daily from the Chicago area.

Shellie pleaded not guilty March 14 to seven felony counts of selling cocaine and is scheduled to appear in court again next week.

Necci said he believes the arrest of Shellie and his cohorts took a huge chunk out of the cocaine available in Walworth County. But, how Shellie’s consumers will react is yet to be seen. Necci said some people will stop using, some will seek help but others will get heroin elsewhere.


Its users

Patek said users are high school kids, college students, a teacher, a lawyer… He said they are men and women, range in age from 18 to their 50s and belong to various professional groups. Necci said more young people are beginning to use heroin.

Delavan attorney Stephen M. Compton, then 44, of Williams Bay, and former Walworth Elementary School teacher Katie M. Luessenhop, then 27, of Lake Geneva, were convicted of heroin possession in 2010.

Compton had undergone treatment for addiction to heroin and cocaine and was spending $4,000 to $5,000 a month on heroin at the time of his arrest, according to the district attorney’s office.

Luessenhop was caught with heroin outside of the Walworth school where she had worked for about three weeks in 2008 and later admitted using heroin inside the Walworth County Jail in 2009, according to news reports.

“It’s everybody,” Patek said. “It’s a wide spectrum.”

Adults often begin the use of opioids after an injury when they’re prescribed prescription painkillers and become addicted to the drugs, he said. Teenagers use prescription drugs recreationally that they find in their parents’ or grandparents’ medicine cabinets, and painkillers are also sold illegally on the street, Patek said.

When doctors will no longer prescribe painkillers or they become too expensive on the street, users often turn to heroin, Patek said. Their first high is so intense, they continually try to achieve that level of intensity, he said.

Heroin users are not like cocaine users who can party with the drug occasionally, Patek said.

“They go out on the weekend, use cocaine, and they’re back to work on Monday,” he said. “There’s not a casual heroin user.”

Its effects

Using heroin is described as a “warm rush,” like pouring a bottle of warm water through someone’s veins, Patek said.

“But, it’s a depressant,” he said.

People who use heroin become lethargic and slow. Patek said their eyes look dazed and they will frequently “nod out.” They will often lose weight, have no appetite and develop bags under their eyes, he said.

“Once they’re truly addicted, that’s all they want,” he said. “Food, personal hygiene … that’s secondary.”

Heroin is physically as well as mentally addictive, Patek said. People who stop using heroin go through physical withdrawals described as “the worst flu they’ve ever had” – diarrhea, vomiting, chills, he said.

“The withdrawals from this drug are horrendous,” Necci said.

Patek said he knows of a handful of people who have gotten off of heroin cold turkey but many relapse. For people who get clean, mundane tasks feel like great accomplishments – remembering a gift for their kid’s birthday, buying a car off the lot or getting up every day and going to their job, he said.

One Walworth County addict, who declined to be identified, said he started taking the painkiller Vicodin after a back injury. He said he later took heroin from a friend, who didn’t tell him what the drug was. The man said he used for a couple of years while he was laid off from work and started getting clean when his wife got arrested for heroin possession.

“It’s tough for a little bit,” he said. “You have to have the will and desire to do it.”

The best route, he said, is never get involved with it in the first place.

“Never go near it,” he said. “Never try it even once. It’s just a waste of time and money. It’s horrible. It turns people into mush.”

Patek stays in touch with the man after his wife’s brush with the law, serving as a one-man deterrent to him relapsing. Patek said he is a different person than the man Patek met when he was using.

“He had a different walk even about him,” Patek said.

Patek said the man couldn’t focus on anything when he was taking heroin, and now, he pays his bills, holds a job and bought a vehicle.


The size of the problem                 

Statistics kept by the state Department of Justice regarding the number of heroin cases analyzed by the state crime laboratory shows a recent explosion in the prosecution of heroin cases – and, presumably, heroin use.

In the period from 2009 to 2013, heroin cases sent to the crime lab shot up from 341 to 1,056. In Walworth County the number has rocketed from five in 2009 to 16 in 2013, with a high of 24 in 2012.

However, Necci said, those statistics represent the tip of the iceberg. He said the numbers are based on the number of drug samples submitted to the state crime lab. The majority of Walworth County cases, he said, have sufficient evidence through witnesses or admissions that sending samples to the crime lab isn’t often necessary.

“Our cases are rock solid when they come to my desk,” he said.

Necci said heroin use in Walworth County dates back to about 2006. Department of Justice statistics show a very large increase in heroin between 2009 and 2012.

“I was amazed at the increase,” Necci said. “We don’t send a lot of these in. The vast majority of the time, they know it’s heroin.”

Most of the community, he said, remains unaware of the adverse impact heroin is having here.

Necci said he is trying to find time to speak to civic organizations like the Rotary Club to make the public aware of heroin use. When he talked about heroin at a Delavan-Darien Rotary Club meeting in January, he got wide-eyed reaction.

“They can’t believe this is going on,” he said.


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