WALWORTH —Ted Hawver is something of a success story.
The Delavan native is majoring in criminology at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He will present an academic paper on prisoner self-identity at a professional conference in Philadelphia later this month.
But he made it clear he doesn’t want anyone following in his footsteps.
Hawver’s path took him through drug use, alcoholism and prison before he was able to pull himself clear of addiction.
He said he used almost every illegal drug except for heroin, and admits that, considering all of the chances he took, he shouldn’t be here.
Although now sober and clean for the past five years, Hawver admitted that it is still a daily struggle to steer clear from his old destructive lifestyle.
Hawver was one of seven members of the Walworth County Drug and Alcohol Coalition to make an educational presentation Nov. 15 to 120 Big Foot High School freshmen.
The program’s goal is for concerned citizens to provide prevention, education, and community awareness to adults and youth about drug, alcohol, and tobacco abuse.
Presentations were made by, among others, a Walworth County sheriff’s deputy, an agent from the Wisconsin Department of Children and Family Services, a county public health official, a crisis intervention counselor and the county treatment court coordinator.
Like much of the rest of the country, Walworth County is suffering through a spike in addiction, methamphetamine manufacturing and opioid abuse.
And it’s not just illegal drugs. Prescription drugs are finding their way into abusers hands as well.
A show of hands indicated that about three-fourths of the 120 or so students in the room knew someone who needed emergency medical treatment for an overdose.
The presentation was the first of its kind for the coalition. Big Foot Principal Michael Hinske said staff from other high schools later indicated interest in having it at their schools.
Sheriff’s Deputy Cory Newman, a 12-year law enforcement professional, led off the presentation, asking students if they recognized such words as dabs, bars and perco. Students’ hands shot up if they recognized some of the drug world slang.
Knowing drug slang doesn’t indicate guilt, Newman reassured the students. But it does show how deeply drug slang has penetrated society.
A former member of the Walworth County Drug Task Force, Newman said he found illegal drugs were everywhere.
He said his worst call as a deputy occurred several years ago during the holiday season. The call was for a pulseless nonbreather who had overdosed.
When he arrived he could see the young adult was dead. Nonetheless, Newman said, he did CPR until the EMTs arrived.
The house was decorated for the holidays. The family stood back and watched him do CPR, hoping that his efforts would bring their loved one back. But it was not to be.
The EMTs declared the individual dead.
“I saw the mother kneel by what was her child, and say that person’s name over and over again,” Newman said.
Newman said that according to the Centers for Disease Control, one person in the United States dies of an overdose every 16 minutes. Nine out of 10 of those overdoses involves an opioid, he said.
Officials said the number who have died in Walworth County from overdoses of all drugs over the past four years exceeds 100.
100 is a lot
“We’re a small county of 100,000 people,” Newman said. “That’s a lot of people.”
“I am in the business of suffering,” said Julie Bonogofsky, director of Southeastern Monitoring Inc., Elkhorn. The company started in 1998 to provide GPS ankle and wrist bracelets for juveniles who were in home detention.
Since then the company has expanded to fill needs for providing drug testing, alcohol monitoring, and supervised visitation services, Bonogofsky said.
“Everyone we’ve provided services for, they’ve been to some terrible places,” Bonogofsky said.
Some of those terrible places were created by drug abuse. Parents who are caught up in drug use are often oblivious to the dangers they create for their children. Neglect and outright abuse are the result, she said.
But even when there is no neglect or physical abuse, the stigma of drug use rubs off on the children.
“Kids follow the behavior of their parents,” she said.
Southeastern Monitoring now monitors 50 families and it does 600 court-ordered drug tests a month, Bogonofsky said.
The dangers of drugs goes beyond what the drug itself can do to a person.
Erica Bergstrom, environmental health specialist at the county department of health and human services, said anytime a person injects a drug, he or she is risking hepatitis C, HIV or AIDS.
In fact, injectable illegal drugs are now the major transmitter of the AIDS virus.
“It’s not sex anymore,” Bergstrom said.
The opioids work directly on the brain, said Bergstrom. The drugs replace dopamine, the natural drug the brain manufactures which reinforces good experiences. It links the drug to feelings of peace and well-being, she said.
There are no ways to predict a drug’s effect on a person’s brain, Bergstrom said. Not everyone gets addicted in the same way. Some experiment with drugs, never to go back and never fall into addiction. Others get hooked after one try, she said.
Katie Behl, coordinator for the Walworth County Drug Court and the Walworth County OWI Court, said the biggest problem is public ignorance.
‘No heroin here’
“People aren’t aware of the problem,” she said. “I’ve met parents who have said, ‘There’s no heroin here. There’s no problem here,’” she said.
In 2013, heroin started a comeback in Walworth County.
The best treatment for drug addiction is prevention, said Behl. Failing that, there are intervention programs, including the drug and OWI courts.
“The people in drug court are good people who have lost their way,” she said.
Most who are addicted started at 13, and by 15 they were experimenting with drugs beyond alcohol and marijuana.
“I have people 18 and 19 years old who are shooting heroin,” Behl said.
The average age of persons in Walworth County Drug Court is 26, she said.
She said sometimes the system can’t act fast enough to help people.
She said five people scheduled for drug court have died of an overdose before they had a chance to turn their lives around, she said.
Hawver, however, was one of those who completed his time in OWI court and turned his life around.
Facing another round of prison after a fourth DUI, Hawver said he was given a chance to turn his life around.
There was no sudden flash of light. No epiphany.
Hawver said the only thing he could think of that kept him in OWI court was keeping out of prison.
“I took it seriously because I didn’t want to be in the position of being incarcerated again,” he said.
Although his life is now traveling a brighter path, Hawver said he regrets the years he lost to drugs and alcohol.
“I’m 16 years behind my peers,” he said.
During a question and answer period, a student asked him if he thought meth had caused any permanent damage.
Hawver said he believes that meth use has had a permanent effect on his brain.
“I’m not as sharp as I once was,” he said. “I have trouble getting words out of my brain and into putting them in my mouth.”