Laura Pulsifer said her biggest hope for the "It's Not My Kid, Or Is It?" anti-drug presentation Jan. 22 was that there would be a sellout crowd for her son Luke, who passed away after a heroin overdose in June.
Shoulder to shoulder on stage with a slew of public officials and others who had been affected by heroin addiction, her hope was realized at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts that night, when more than 600 people came to learn about the drug.
Cars streamed into the parking lot, using the sides of the road as parking spaces when they ran out of marked spots. People young and old filled the balconies and stood in the aisles.
"You're taking the first step just by being here," Lee Pulsifer, Luke's dad, told the audience.
Aiming at prevention
Although many people in the audience that night were already painfully aware of heroin use in the community, the event's goal was to spread that awareness far and wide in the hope of preventing more people from becoming entangled with the drug.
A woman from Waukesha County, who didn't want to give her name, said she came because her son's father, 27, was addicted to heroin. It had taken her more than a year to see that the man, from a "well-to-do" family, was using drugs. Now he is in jail and she worries whether he'll recover.
"You can't really make him do anything," she said. "There's always a seed of hope, but there's always a seed of doubt, so you have to put up a wall there."
Conor Brennan, a recovered addict who had attended New Berlin Eisenhower High School in New Berlin, spoke at the event. He emphasized the challenge of helping people who already are addicted to heroin.
"You can't love someone out of a heroin addiction," he said. "They have to want to get better."
With heroin hitting those in their 20s the hardest, Capt. Frank McElderry with the Waukesha County Sheriff's Department said it's important to talk to teens about heroin early on, before they are exposed to it.
People who use heroin start with other drugs and often give warning signs that they could be heading toward heroin, he said. One such sign is the use of prescription opiates. Many times, young people find these prescription pills in a place with easy access: their parents' medicine cabinets.
"Mom and Dad, sometimes you become the number one dealer to your kids unknowingly," he said.
McElderry said users often switch to heroin, also an opiate, because it can be cheaper. But the potency of heroin bought on the street can vary widely, making it all too easy to overdose.
A first step
The speakers said they hoped the night would be a starting point for changes to come.
"If we had ever-increasing traffic deaths, we'd do something about it. We'd have roundabouts every 500 feet," Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel said after explaining how opiate-related deaths are on the rise in the state and county.
Law enforcement representatives urged parents to talk to their kids about heroin and pay close attention to their habits.
"Parents say, 'I want to respect their privacy,'" sheriff's Detective Chris Kohl said. "That's a bunch of hooey. You have to keep them alive."
Brookfield Police Capt. Phil Horter said that's the stance he has taken with his two teenagers.
"There is no constitution in the Horter house," he said. "If I want to see their computer or phone or room, there's no going to the DA to get a search warrant."
■ To become active in local efforts to educate the community about the dangers of heroin, email Chris Guthrie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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