PORTAGE, Wis. - Don and Jan Weideman lost their youngest son in June after a year-and-a-half battle with heroin, and they have formed a group to address the growing concern about heroin in Columbia County.
Don Weideman found his son, Cody, dead in their home from a heroin overdose.
Cody's addiction was triggered by a girlfriend who also used the drug. His parents went through inpatient and outpatient programs, counseling and treatment options.
It's an experience Don Weideman described as "a living hell."
"Children are supposed to bury parents. Parents aren't supposed to bury children," Don Weideman said.
"It's so heart-breaking to just feel that we tried everything we could to help him and we still couldn't win that battle," Jan Weideman added.
Heroin has claimed other lives in Columbia County.
Two men -- Lars Atkinson of Lodi and Milton Moore of Fitchburg -- are facing one charge each of first-degree reckless homicide. Those counts bring a maximum punishment of 40 years in prison.
According to the criminal complaint, police found Jake Adler in the 300 block of North Hill Street in July. Adler was unconscious and gasping for air, and emergency response crews' attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.
The complaint said Atkinson told police that he used money from his mother to buy heroin from Moore. He and Adler both injected themselves with the drugs, the complaint said.
When Adler fell asleep and wouldn't wake up, Atkinson brought him out to the porch of his grandmother's home and left him in a patio chair, according to the complaint.
The complaint said Atkinson decided to call for help because he had been around people who had overdosed before. Adler was unresponsive for about nine hours.
"By the time they actually need the help or want the help, they are so addicted to the drug that it's quite an uphill battle for them and their families," Columbia County Sheriff Dennis Richards said.
Four out of five cases the sheriff's drug task force handles is linked to heroin. Richards is pushing county judges to put stricter bails in place for heroin offenders. He said too many people associated with the drug are repeat criminals on the street.
"It's just a different animal," Richards said. "They'll be arrested, be charged and get released from jail, and within days we're catching them or they're being linked to the same thing again."
In response to Cody's death and the growing concern in the county, Don and Jan Weideman started a group called Concerned Citizens Against Heroin. The organization meets weekly to brainstorm priorities for combating the heroin situation.
So far, the group has drafted a list of suggestions, including longer sentences for drug dealers, more resources for city and county police, prevention programs and grief counseling.
The group is now focusing on assistance for addicts and families. That involves inpatient and outpatient rehab programs, jail program funding, halfway houses, family support groups and a communication hotline.
All of these ideas are being presented to county supervisors for consideration.
"If we could just spare one person a life, it will have been worth it for Cody's mission," Jan Weideman said.
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