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Rock County sheriff candidates square off about heroin

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Frank Schultz
April 30, 2014

JANESVILLE—Rock County sheriff candidate Gary Groelle is taking shots at the incumbent over his heroin policies, and Sheriff Bob Spoden is shooting back.

Responses to a reporter's questions Wednesday also revealed tensions at the sheriff's office since Groelle, a captain serving under Spoden, declared his candidacy.

Groelle pointed to state Department of Justice has data showing Rock County is one of the most active for heroin cases being sent to the state crime lab.

“It isn't working. I'd like to think we could be doing better,” Groelle said.

“We're not sitting idly by,” responded Spoden, who will face Groelle in the Aug. 12 Democratic primary.

Groelle said more outreach is needed to educate doctors about painkiller abuse, which sometimes leads to heroin abuse.

“It is my goal to get 100 percent participation by prescribers in our statewide Prescription Monitoring Program, which is the system for physicians to report the prescriptions that they write,” Groelle said in his press release.

Spoden said his office has reached out to the medical community.

“Something like this would've been a great topic for him to bring to the command staff meeting, but I have yet to hear from him on it,” Spoden said.

If it's this important, the idea shouldn't wait until after the election, Spoden added.

Groelle said fewer command-staff meetings have been held recently and that Spoden has said he is doing that to keep Groelle out of the loop.

Spoden denied he has said this and said command staff meetings are not on a regular schedule. He said one meeting was held April 22, when Groelle was on vacation, and Groelle attended a meeting two weeks before that.

Groelle also said he has been denied the opportunity to attend training sessions three or four times since he began his campaign, which had not happened in the past.

Spoden said he does not deal with those requests; they go through Cmdr. Troy Knudson. The office has limited money for training, so requests must be prioritized, Spoden said.

“Gary should know this because he oversees training. He should understand this,” Spoden said.

The candidates agreed the sheriff's office has worked on heroin education and enforcement.

Groelle said he is working on his own time with an independent group to give Good Drugs Gone Bad presentations about the link between prescription painkillers and heroin.

Groelle said he recently attended the National Prescription Drug Abuse Summit in Atlanta on his vacation time and brought back new ideas.

Spoden said a major issue is a dearth of treatment facilities for heroin addicts. He hopes “community partners” will provide those.

Groelle issued a press release Wednesday with a  list of measures he said should be taken, including the following:

-- More needs to be done to combat the growing heroin threat, Groelle said.

Spoden said five years ago, when heroin was becoming worrisome here, he lobbied federal officials for the county to be designated a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

The program allows law enforcement to apply for grants. The sheriff's office recently received a $59,000 grant for officer drug enforcement, including officer overtime, Spoden said.

Spoden said deputies regularly participate in joint operations with other agencies to raid drug houses. 

“I think we need a stronger direction, stronger leadership, and that has to come from everybody. … It's health care, law enforcement, hospitals, treatment facilities, judges,” Groelle said.

-- Groelle said the sheriff's office should be a location for a drug drop-off box, such as the one in the Janesville Police Department lobby.

Prescription painkiller abuse has been found to lead to later heroin use, and painkillers in the home are often the source of these drugs.

Spoden said that before he saw Groelle's press release, he had instructed one of his command staff to assign Groelle to apply to a federal program that is giving away drop boxes.

Groelle confirmed he had been assigned to do this, but he said a similar opportunity was presented to the sheriff two years ago, and the sheriff declined the offer.

Spoden said he does not recall such an offer, but he said the sheriff's office has supported drug disposal campaigns, with deputies assigned to transport drugs that are turned in.

-- Groelle wants deputies to carry naloxone to revive heroin-overdose victims.

Spoden noted EMTs already carry the drug, and he questioned the cost. The budget is tight, so if deputies carry the drug, something would have to be cut to pay for it.

-- Groelle proposes a Rock County heroin summit where the strategies he learned in Atlanta could be adapted for local use.

Spoden said that's an idea that should be brought to the county Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, where all stakeholders are at the table.



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