JERSEYVILLE – Jersey County Sheriff Mike Ringhausen has only been in the office for a little over a month, and he is inheriting quite the load.

Like most places across the country – even (and sometimes especially) in rural Rust Belt communities – the opioid epidemic has ravaged Jersey County. Ringhausen, who has been working in law enforcement at some capacity his entire adult life and in drug enforcement for more than a decade, said narcotics and the crimes directly associated with them are the main focus of law enforcement in the county. Outside of tougher judicial practices, Ringhausen said he firmly believes education and information through schools, the community and the media is part of the solution to the epidemic ravaging the entire country, Jersey County included.

“It isn't just the drugs, which are bad enough,” Ringhausen said. “It's also the crimes associated with them. If someone is addicted and run out of money, what are they going to do? Burglary, theft, things like that are part of this problem. And, if they have a family and kids, you have the domestic issues when the money runs out.”

Part of the issue, Ringhausen said, is a newfound lack of community in modern times. He said people need to check on their neighbors from time to time and get to know them better.

“People think it's being nosy and say it's not their problem, so they won't get involved,” he said. “But if a car is at the house and you don't think it belongs, you could make the call and see what's happening. How would you feel if your neighbor was sick or hurting on the floor and you didn't know about it?”

Beyond community and being neighborly, Ringhausen said officers from his department as well as the South Central Illinois Drug Enforcement Task Force go into the school systems to better educate students to the dangers of drug abuse.

Most of the abusers of opioids in Jersey County are adults, Ringhausen said, but some are of high school ages. He said information attained from drug arrests revealed cannabis to be the first drug used by many suspects, adding they started in junior high, between the ages of 12-14.

The opioid epidemic in Jersey County began as it did in many places in the nation – with prescription painkiller abuse. Ringhausen said those painkiller abuses turned to heroin around 2007, which is a bit before it became the subject of many media stories and specials. Recently, however, the crisis has taken a much more dangerous and terrifying turn with Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid much more potent than heroin.

As in Madison County, Fentanyl is accounting for more and more overdose cases in the county. Ringhausen said meth was also an issue. The two are often mixed together in an incredibly dangerous “speedball” cocktail. Along with meth, Fentanyl has also been found in cocaine in the county. Fentanyl-laced cocaine was responsible for at least one death in Wood River in 2017.

Opioids in Jersey County often come from North St. Louis County, Ringhausen said, adding some just to the north in Greene County are coming south from Springfield.

To combat the often lethal effects of Fentanyl, deputies in the Jersey County Sheriff's Office also carry Narcan, which was once touted as a “miracle drug” for its ability to bring addicts on the brink of death from an overdose “back from the dead” with one snuff. Unfortunately, due to the potency of modern day opioids, some people take more than one dose to be revived.

While the opioid crisis seems like a daunting task for law enforcement and addiction advocates across the nation, Ringhausen has trained his entire adult life for it. He said he always wanted to be in law enforcement and was born and raised in Jersey County within the Southwestern School District.

His humble beginnings in law enforcement began as a loss prevention associate at the Alton Target. He worked security following that gig, eventually landing a job at a Greyhound Bus station in northern St. Louis. It was there during one year of employment Ringhausen said he “matured,” as he was exposed to drugs and gangs.

Ringhausen first received a position as a police officer in the small community of Roodhouse before taking his place at the Jersey County Sheriff's Office in the mid-1990s. With so much time and dedication to his career and community, Ringhausen said his biggest fear is failing his community, adding he is proud of how far he has come in his life. He said he wants to dedicate his experience and skills to serving the people of Jersey County to make it an all-around better and safer extended community.

Reporter Cory Davenport can be reached via call or text at (618) 419-3046 or via email at cory@riverbender.com

Purchase photos from this article. Print Version