The opioid epidemic hits hard in Vilas County Submitted: 10/26/2017
Phylicia Ashley
Phylicia Ashley

The opioid epidemic hits hard in Vilas County
LAC DU FLAMBEAU - Opioids in Northern Wisconsin created problems some areas never saw until the epidemic crept in about ten years ago. 

The Vilas County Tribal Concerns Committee met Thursday to take on the national epidemic that's costing their community money and lives. 

People in Vilas County said they want to stop the opioid epidemic from the top down.  

At Thursday's meeting in Lac du Flambeau leaders said they want to start with prevention and possibly join other counties in suing pharmaceutical companies.  

They feel the companies are responsible for ripping their town apart.

"We need to cut the head off the snake. We've been nipping at its tail for years," said Lac du Flambeau town board member Rob Hanson.

Hanson grew up in Northern Wisconsin.

He said when opioids made their way into his neighborhood about ten years ago it started deteriorating the area.

 "I was shocked I didn't think those kind of things happened up here now it's flipped. Vilas County is number two for opioid use in the state," said Hanson. 

Vilas County Sheriff Joe Fath sees how far people will go to get drugs. 

"Vilas County is no different than Milwaukee, or Madison or anywhere else. Most recently all our crimes people commit, they're trying to [support their] drug addiction," said Fath. 

Board members came to the meeting ready with notes and facts from the state's response to the opioid crisis. 

It reports Vilas County is the 6th highest in the state for opioid related deaths.

The committee wants to get off the top of this list. It's starting by aiming for pharmaceutical companies. 

"Once you have the crisis, the cost of trying to fix that crisis is insurmountable," said Vilas County resident Bob Kovar. 
As a lawyer Hanson will take the lead on starting a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies for their role in the opioid crisis.

"It's time for pharma's to pay their share of the cost and stop what they're doing," said Hanson.
Fath also believes the pharmaceutical companies played a role in the addiction issues in Vilas County. 

"It's been kind of accepted by the medical community that they kind of helped create the opioid problem," said Fath. 

Hanson wants to stop the supply.

 That would help the more than 400 drug related cases that the Lac du Flambeau Tribal Police see each year.

"So far nobody has been able to stop the guy with the flame thrower," said Hanson. 

The group will keep moving forward to take steps to fight the Opioid epidemic.

 Making pharmaceutical companies pay to repair the damage the committee thinks the companies created, might be their first step. 

The Tribal Concerns Committee has a lot of ideas to make changes of their own.  

It's considering speaking to lawmakers in Madison. 

The committee says this problem won't go away anytime soon. 

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