It's been a year this week since a major methamphetamine bust in the La Crosse area put several people behind bars. Officials said that despite the case's magnitude, it's still an ongoing challenge to keep meth off the streets.
"It's a little alarming that we went through a case that big, charged that many people and we still have a significant amount of high-grade meth coming through,” said Tom Johnson, investigative coordinator of the West Central Metropolitan Enforcement Group (MEG) Unit. But he said new dealers step up to replace the old ones.
"We changed or interrupted the flow for a time but we're not so naive to think that we stopped it, because we did not stop it, and it continues,” he said.
The MEG unit, working with area agencies, built a case against a large meth-trafficking ring in October of 2015. While it resulted in charges being pressed against 17 people involved, investigators, after patting themselves on the back, had to get right back to work
"People need to remain vigilant, and all the investigators in all our agencies are working day to day as hard as they always did to try and stop that flow,” Johnson said. “It just changes directions when a certain number of people get arrested."
"It’s still the number one issue, at least of drugs found on streets, methamphetamines by far. It’s cheap and it's accessible,” said Al Bliss, health educator and heroin and illicit drug task force coordinator.
Numbers from the sheriff's department show there were more than 600 meth charges in La Crosse County last year, beating out both cocaine and heroin, which both came in at fewer than 100.
Johnson can't say yet whether there is less meth on the streets a year after the big meth bust, but he believes the arrests sent a strong message.
"All our communities in these five counties are sick and tired of this activity," he said.
Bliss said that while drug arrests are important for public safety, there's more to solving the problem.
"I think continued prevention and treatment efforts are the two most important things our community can address with this,” he said.
Both Bliss and Johnson say part of the solution lies in education and working together to stop the flow of meth into the region for good.
"There needs to be a holistic approach. We need to work together as a coalition between the treatment community, the law-enforcement community and the educational community,” Johnson said. “It takes a village."
Johnson said he's noticed over the past year that more people are interested in getting information, and law agencies have done more presentations on the danger of drugs.
The La Crosse County Prevention Network is sponsoring a Getting to kNOw Meth and Marijuana session from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Viterbo Friday. The presentation is for business leaders and professionals and is free to attend. For more information or to RSVP, call 608-785-9855 or email Judi Zabel at email@example.com.