Twin plagues: Meth rises in shadow of opioids

America can't quit its meth habit.

After a brief lull caused by a crackdown on domestic manufacturing techniques, the highly addictive stimulant is blooming across the country again, this time in the shadows of the opioid epidemic.

Because meth kills slowly, and at lower rates, it isn't getting the attention that many researchers, law enforcement officials and health workers say it deserves. They worry it will eventually overwhelm the country as heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkillers have.

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Discarded needles are seen at a heroin encampment in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 7, 2017. In North Philadelphia, railroad gulch as it is knowen, is ground zero in Philadelphia?s opioid epidemic. Known by locals as El Campanento, the open air drug market and heroin encampment is built with the discarded materials from the gulch and populated by addicts seeking a hit of heroin to keep their dope sick, or withdrawal symptoms, at bay. In one area, near the 2nd Avenue overpass, empty syringe wrappers blanket the refuse like grass the used needles they once contained poking through like thistles. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: 'Surfer' shoots heroin in a park in the South Bronx on June 7, 2017 in New York City. Like Staten Island, parts of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, especially heroin and other opioid based drugs. More than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the majority of those deaths involved opioids. The Mott Haven-Hunts Point area of the Bronx borough of New York currently leads the city in heroin overdose deaths. According to the Deputy Attorney General, drug overdose are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: A man leans against the wall appearing to be under the influence of drugs on a street in the South Bronx on June 7, 2017 in New York City. Like Staten Island, parts of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, especially heroin and other opioid based drugs. More than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the majority of those deaths involved opioids. The Mott Haven-Hunts Point area of the Bronx borough of New York currently leads the city in heroin overdose deaths. According to the Deputy Attorney General, drug overdose are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 18: Family members of those who died of opioid overdoses attend the 'Fed Up!' rally to end the opioid epidemic on at the National Mall on September 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. Activists and family members gathered on the National Mall to march to the Capitol Building. Some 30,000 people die each year due to heroin and painkiller pill addiciton. Speakers called for Congress to provide $1.1 billion for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which Congress passed in July without funding. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: A man rests against a wall appearing to be under the influence of drugs on a street in the South Bronx on June 7, 2017 in New York City. Like Staten Island, parts of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, especially heroin and other opioid based drugs. More than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the majority of those deaths involved opioids. The Mott Haven-Hunts Point area of the Bronx borough of New York currently leads the city in heroin overdose deaths. According to the Deputy Attorney General, drug overdose are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: Brian smokes a synthetic drug called K2 on the street in the South Bronx on June 7, 2017 in New York City. Like Staten Island, parts of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, especially heroin and other opioid based drugs. More than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the majority of those deaths involved opioids. The Mott Haven-Hunts Point area of the Bronx borough of New York currently leads the city in heroin overdose deaths. According to the Deputy Attorney General, drug overdose are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: 'Surfer' shoots heroin in a park in the South Bronx on June 7, 2017 in New York City. Like Staten Island, parts of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, especially heroin and other opioid based drugs. More than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the majority of those deaths involved opioids. The Mott Haven-Hunts Point area of the Bronx borough of New York currently leads the city in heroin overdose deaths. According to the Deputy Attorney General, drug overdose are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 18: Activists and family members of loved ones who died in the opioid/heroin epidemic take part in a 'Fed Up!' rally at Capitol Hill on September 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. Protesters called on legistlators to provide funding for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which Congress passed in July without funding. Some 30,000 Americans die each year due to heroin and painkiller pill addiciton in the United States. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Quincy Massachusetts Police Detective Lt. Patrick Glynn holds a nasal injection containing the overdose-reversing drug naloxone at the police headquarters in Quincy, Mass., June 13, 2014. Quincy, Massachusetts, in 2010 became the first U.S. city to make the drug standard equipment for its police officers, who have used it to reverse some 275 overdoses, a significant number in a city of 93,000 people. Police forces nationwide are starting to follow suit. The state program has now moved far beyond police, training some 25,747 people in Massachusetts how to recognize the signs of opioid drug overdoses and administer naloxone. June 13, 2014. REUTERS/Gretchen Ertl (UNITED STATES - Tags: DRUGS SOCIETY HEALTH CRIME LAW)
A woman suspected of acting under the influence of heroine shows arms to police on April 19, 2017 in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington, the city in the northwest corner of West Virginia, bordering Kentucky, has been portrayed as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. On August 15, 2016, from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, 28 people in the city overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful and dangerous than heroin. The economic incentives are powerful: one kilogram of fentanyl costs $5,000, which can make a million tablets sold at $20 each for a gain of $20 million. 'This epidemic doesn't discriminate,' Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. 'Our youngest overdose was 12 years old. The oldest was 77.' / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Heather SCOTT, US-health-drugs-WestVirginia (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Paraphernalia for smoking and injecting drugs is seen after being found during a police search on April 19, 2017 in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington, the city in the northwest corner of West Virginia, bordering Kentucky, has been portrayed as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. On August 15, 2016, from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, 28 people in the city overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful and dangerous than heroin. The economic incentives are powerful: one kilogram of fentanyl costs $5,000, which can make a million tablets sold at $20 each for a gain of $20 million. 'This epidemic doesn't discriminate,' Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. 'Our youngest overdose was 12 years old. The oldest was 77.' / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Heather SCOTT, US-health-drugs-WestVirginia (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Paraphernalia for smoking and injecting drugs is seen after it was found during a police search on April 19, 2017, in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington, the city in the northwest corner of West Virginia, bordering Kentucky, has been portrayed as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. On August 15, 2016, from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, 28 people in the city overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful and dangerous than heroin. The economic incentives are powerful: one kilogram of fentanyl costs $5,000, which can make a million tablets sold at $20 each for a gain of $20 million. 'This epidemic doesn't discriminate,' Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. 'Our youngest overdose was 12 years old. The oldest was 77.' / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Heather SCOTT, US-health-drugs-WestVirginia (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Paraphernalia for injecting drugs is seen after being found during a police search on April 19, 2017 in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington, the city in the northwest corner of West Virginia, bordering Kentucky, has been portrayed as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. On August 15, 2016, from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, 28 people in the city overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful and dangerous than heroin. The economic incentives are powerful: one kilogram of fentanyl costs $5,000, which can make a million tablets sold at $20 each for a gain of $20 million. 'This epidemic doesn't discriminate,' Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. 'Our youngest overdose was 12 years old. The oldest was 77.' / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Heather SCOTT, US-health-drugs-WestVirginia (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Jessica, a homeless heroin addict, shows her kit of clean needles, mixing cap and tourniquet in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 2017. In North Philadelphia, railroad gulch as it is known, is ground zero in Philadelphia's opioid epidemic. 80 percent of us want to get out,' said Jessica, before outlining the numerous ways she has tried to get treatment for her addiction. In one case, she said, there weren't any available beds. In another, a treatment provider required a positive drug test before delivering aid, meaning if she hadn't used recently she'd be denied. Instead of getting treatment, she spends her nights trying to keep warm on a mattress under a bridge, the very spot where she was raped and infected with HIV. People come from throughout the city, and some as far away as the Midwest, for heroin that is remarkably cheap and pure at the largest heroin market on the East coast. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
Drug paraphernalia and other garbage litter a vacant house on April 19, 2017 in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington, the city in the northwest corner of West Virginia, bordering Kentucky, has been portrayed as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. On August 15, 2016, from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, 28 people in the city overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful and dangerous than heroin. The economic incentives are powerful: one kilogram of fentanyl costs $5,000, which can make a million tablets sold at $20 each for a gain of $20 million. 'This epidemic doesn't discriminate,' Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. 'Our youngest overdose was 12 years old. The oldest was 77.' / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Heather SCOTT, US-health-drugs-WestVirginia (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A man injects himself in the foot with heroin near a heroin encampmentin the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 2017. In North Philadelphia, railroad gulch as it is known, is ground zero in Philadelphia's opioid epidemic. At the camp, and throughout the nearby area, a user can buy a bag of high-grade heroin at a low price and even pay to have another person inject them if for any reason they are unable to inject themselves. For several individuals, the addiction process was a slow one that started with a doctor's prescription for pain pills after an accident or surgery, and by the time the medication was finished, a dependency was born. After seeking black-market pills to feed their addiction, the simple economics of heroin won out: the price of a single pill could fetch anywhere between 2 and 10 bags of heroin, a savings that's hard to ignore when an insurance company is no longer underwriting the cost. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 18: Michael Botticelli, U.S. National Drug Control Policy Director, speaks at the 'Fed Up!' rally to end the opioid epidemic on September 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. Activists and family members of people who have died in the opioid and heroin epidemic gathered on the National Mall to march to the Capitol Building. Some 30,000 people die each year due to heroin and painkiller pill addiciton. Speakers called for Congress to provide $1.1 billion for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which Congress passed in July without funding. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
A man uses a syringe to gather the last drops from a scavenged water bottle to mix up a shot of heroin near a heroin encampment in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 2017. In North Philadelphia, railroad gulch as it is known, is ground zero in Philadelphia?s opioid epidemic. The tracks and the surrounding property are owned and operated by the Consolidated Rail Corporation, a joint subsidiary of Norfolk Southern and CSX. People come from throughout the city, and some as far away as the Midwest, for heroin that is remarkably cheap and pure at the largest heroin market on the East coast. According to the city Health Commission, Philadelphia is on track to see 33 percent more drug overdose deaths in 2017 over last year. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
A Philadelphia Police officer patrols under a bridge near a heroin encampment in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 2017. In North Philadelphia, railroad gulch as it is known, is ground zero in Philadelphia��s opioid epidemic. The tracks and the surrounding property are owned and operated by the Consolidated Rail Corporation, a joint subsidiary of Norfolk Southern and CSX. Last month, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced citations against the Consolidated Rail Corporation for what the mayor, in a release, said was Conrail's failure to clean and secure their own property.' Visitors and homeless residents of the gulch say the trash isn't their fault, and that they are only there because they have nowhere else to go. According to the city Health Commission, Philadelphia is on track to see 33 percent more drug overdose deaths in 2017 over last year. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
SANFORD, ME - FEBRUARY 16: Milo Chernin, who lost her son Sam to a heroin overdose on Jan. 16, 2017, looks at photos at her home in Sanford. She says that Sam, who died at age 25, struggled with his addiction and could not stay away from heroin despite getting treatment. (Photo by Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 18: Activists and family members of loved ones who died in the opioid/heroin epidemic take part in a 'Fed Up!' rally at Capitol Hill on September 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. Protesters called on legistlators to provide funding for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which Congress passed in July without funding. Some 30,000 Americans die each year due to heroin and painkiller pill addiciton in the United States. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
GROTON, CT - MARCH 23: A box of the opioid antidote Naloxone, also known as Narcan, sits on display during a family addiction support group on March 23, 2016 in Groton, CT. The drug is used to revive people suffering from heroin overdose. The group Communities Speak Out organizes monthly meetings at a public library for family members to talk about how their loved ones' addiction affects them and to give each other emotional support. Communities nationwide are struggling with the unprecidented heroin and opioid pain pill epidemic. On March 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), announced guidelines for doctors to reduce the amount of opioid painkillers prescribed nationwide, in an effort to curb the epidemic. The CDC estimates that most new heroin addicts first became hooked on prescription pain medication before graduating to heroin, which is stronger and cheaper. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW LONDON, CT - MARCH 23: A heroin user injects himself on March 23, 2016 in New London, CT. Communities throughout New England and nationwide are struggling with the unprecidented heroin and opioid pain pill epidemic. On March 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), announced guidelines for doctors to reduce the amount of opioid painkillers prescribed nationwide, in an effort to curb the epidemic. The CDC estimates that most new heroin addicts first became hooked on prescription pain medication before graduating to heroin, which is stronger and cheaper. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
GROTON, CT - MARCH 23: Family members of people addicted heroin and opioid pain pills share stories during a support group on March 23, 2016 in Groton, CT. The group Communities Speak Out organizes monthly meetings at a public library for family members to talk about how their loved ones' addiction affects them and to give each other emotional support. Communities nationwide are struggling with the unprecidented heroin and opioid pain pill epidemic. On March 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), announced guidelines for doctors to reduce the amount of opioid painkillers prescribed nationwide, in an effort to curb the epidemic. The CDC estimates that most new heroin addicts first became hooked on prescription pain medication before graduating to heroin, which is stronger and cheaper. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW LONDON, CT - MARCH 14: Jackson, 27, who said he is addicted to prescription medication, lies passed out in a public library on March 14, 2016 in New London, CT. Police say an increasing number of suburban addicts are coming into the city to buy heroin, which is much cheaper than opioid painkillers. On March 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), announced guidelines for doctors to reduce the amount of opioid painkillers prescribed nationwide. The CDC estimates that most new heroin addicts first became hooked on prescription pain medication before graduating to heroin, which is stronger and cheaper. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
ST. JOHNSBURY, VT - FEBRUARY 06: 'Buck' who is 23 and addicted to heroin, shoots up Suboxone, a maintenance drug for opioid dependence that is also highly addictive on February 6, 2014 in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin recently devoted his entire State of the State speech to the scourge of heroin. Heroin and other opiates have begun to devastate many communities in the Northeast and Midwest leading to a surge in fatal overdoses in a number of states. As prescription painkillers, such as the synthetic opiate OxyContin, become increasingly expensive and regulated, more and more Americans are turning to heroin to fight pain or to get high. Heroin, which has experienced a surge in production in places such as Afghanistan and parts of Central America, has a relatively inexpensive street price and provides a more powerful affect on the user. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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Some states are fighting both epidemics at once.

"All of a sudden, it's everywhere again," Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said.

Schimel commissioned a study of meth in his state, which estimated that its use had jumped by at least 250 percent since 2011, a pace that could overtake heroin. "We are entering another full-blown epidemic with meth," he said.

Ohio, a focal point of the opioid epidemic, is also battling a meth resurgence, particularly in rural areas, authorities have said. Reports indicate the same happening in Texas, Montana, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Iowa and South Dakota.

Researchers point out that meth addiction has always been a big problem in America. What's changed, they said, is a switch to mass production in Mexico, an increase in potency and affordability, and deeper penetration by drug cartels into vulnerable communities.

And, unlike opioids, there is no proven medical treatment for meth addiction.

"We can do therapy and that sort of thing, but we don't have a magic pill," said Jane Maxwell, who researches drug abuse at the University of Texas at Austin.

Maxwell has documented a meth spike in her home state that includes a rise in deaths, treatment-center admissions, poison-center calls, and toxicology lab submissions. She believes meth is driving an uptick in HIV cases.

"I'm concerned that as all this money goes into treating opioid users, what are we going to do for meth users?"

A New Surge

Underlying the crisis is a growing concern that America focuses considerable resources on curtailing the supply of drugs, and punishing those to sell and abuse them, with little impact on the demand.

"People using meth aren't just going to stop," said Henry Brownstein, director of the Center for Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University. His exploration of American meth markets resulted in the 2014 book "The Methamphetamine Industry in America: Transnational Cartels and Local Entrepreneurs."

Brownstein and his co-author, Timothy Mulcahy, charted the evolution of meth during the early 2000s from a hyper-local enterprise, produced in small labs and sold and shared among families and friends, to a sophisticated network driven by Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

That switch was largely attributed to the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act, which placed tight controls of over-the-counter cold medicines used to cook meth. The number of meth labs in America dropped precipitously after that law went into effect in 2006, according to authorities. So did federal prosecutions of meth offenses. So did the amount seized by police. So did the number of meth users, and the number of hospital admissions, federal data shows.

But entrepreneurial traffickers found ways to fill the void.

Their innovations led to the growth of Mexican "superlabs" where a cheap and highly potent version of meth was mass-produced for shipment by cartels over the border, ending up in the hands of mid- and low-level American dealers across the South, West and Midwest.

Almost immediately, the signs pointing to meth's decline began to flip.

As the Mexican-made meth saturated drug markets, the price fell dramatically in 2007, and continued to decline for most of the next decade, according to data collected by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. At the same time, the purity of meth consumed in the United States rose to nearly 100 percent.

The estimated number of meth users, meanwhile, rose from its low point of 314,000 in 2008 to 569,000 in 2014, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The agency changed the way it measured meth use after that, so it is not possible to make a fair comparison with more recent years.

At the same time, fatal overdoses involving meth more than doubled from 2010 to 2014, according to the most recent data available from the National Center for Health Statistics.

And meth seizures exploded, from 7,063 kilograms in 2006 to 44,077 kilograms in 2015, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Unintended Consequences

"We're seeing it pour across the border in bigger quantities," said Mark Conover, the deputy U.S. Attorney in Southern California, where the vast majority of Mexican meth enters the United States, hidden in cars and containers and sniffed out by dogs at ports of entry and highway checkpoints. Border seizures in San Diego County jumped from 3,585 kilograms in 2012 to 8,706 kilograms in 2016. "It used to be that loads of 20, 30, 40 pounds were big for us. Now we have 200-pound loads."

In Arizona, seizures are up by about 140 percent over the past five years, said Douglas Coleman, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration office there. He blamed the Mexican cartels not only for mass producing high-potency meth, but also for blocking their Colombian rivals out of the American cocaine market, a strategy that involves luring coke customers to meth.

"The average user has no issue switching to meth because they need that stimulant," Coleman said.

Meantime, the number of people sentenced to federal prison for meth offenses has risen to levels far beyond any other drug, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. In 2015, meth offenders made up the highest proportion of federal drug offenders in 27 states, mostly in the South, Midwest and West.

Those trends point to the inadvertent consequences of the 2006 law, said Mulcahy, a vice president at NORC, a research agency at the University of Chicago. They provide a counter-argument to traditional American thinking about drug policy: use enforcement crackdowns as a tool to jack up the price of illegal drugs, and reduce demand, he said.

"Now we're at a place where we're going completely backward," Mulcahy said.

Travis Linnemann, an Eastern Kentucky University sociologist and author of the book "Meth Wars," said he suspected that meth use hasn't really changed that much in America, and cautioned that law enforcement's emphasis on the drug may reflect broader priorities related to the war on drugs, border security and restricting immigration. "That's not to say cartels don't traffic meth, but they've been doing it for a long time," he said.

In many rural and struggling communities, Linnemann said, meth is often singled out as a reason for deteriorating conditions, when much bigger forces ─ the decline of family farms, the rise of corporate agriculture ─ are also responsible.

A Sinking Boat

In Wisconsin, those elements are closely linked.

Routed from trafficking hubs around Minneapolis/St. Paul, meth is ravaging areas of western Wisconsin that had weathered the first wave, officials say. Things have gotten so bad that local government agencies are running out of places to put children taken from the custody of their hopelessly addicted parents.

That includes Dunn County, a rural and manufacturing community of 44,000 that has been overwhelmed with meth. Meth addiction there spans generations, and breaks apart families, forcing child-welfare officials to remove children from their homes, health workers say.

Kristin Korpela, head of the Dunn County Department of Human Services, recalled having one of her social workers visit a young mother in jail, where she voluntarily gave up her three kids.

"Meth," the mom told the social worker, "makes you forget that you ever had children."

Next door, in Chippewa County, Human Services Director Larry Winter has seen out-of-home placements for children surge from 28 in 2013 to 103 in just the first five months of 2017. Three-quarters of those placements are related to meth abuse, he said.

Such punitive measures, along with arrests, do little to curb the epidemic ─ and may may things worse, he said.

"People who may want to come forward to do something about their addiction are afraid they will get charged and DHS will take their kids," Winter said. "My staff tells me that if they could keep the family and kids together, and have the resources to do it safely, recovery from the addiction is possible and it's going to reduce the risk, because parents are willing to stay engaged. However, once we make that decision to take those kids into custody, it is very difficult to keep the parents engaged, and often times they're AWOL."

Meanwhile, in eastern Wisconsin, the opioid crisis continues to flourish.

John Kumm, an analyst in the FBI's Milwaukee office, said the two epidemics appear to be moving toward the middle of the state. Already, authorities have documented meth users to turn to heroin to take the edge off their highs, and heroin addicts who turn to meth because there's less change of an overdose.

This year, the number of criminal meth cases has eclipsed those involving heroin or fentanyl, Kumm said.

"The biggest point is there is a dual crisis here, and we're sure it's not just in Wisconsin," he said.

Schimel, the attorney general, likened the twin plagues to holes at each end of a rowboat, with law enforcement authorities and treatment providers trying to bail out water, with more continuing to pour in.

The patch, in this case, is an effective prevention strategy, which Wisconsin is still trying to develop, he said.

"With opiates, when we discovered the nature of that epidemic ─ and we're still working to get out way out of it ─ we kind of thought this is as bad as it gets," Schimel said. "And then meth came along."

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