Last week, Cassandra Nygren was incarcerated as a result of her drug addiction. She faces charges of first-degree reckless homicide, delivery of heroin, child neglect, and maintaining a drug trafficking place in the death of Jennifer Skeen near Green Bay. When it comes to the heroin epidemic, have we hit a wall, yet?

I am heartbroken for Cassie. And I call her Cassie, because I first met this 28-year-old when she was just a kid. I have known her dad, John Nygren, and her stepmother, for more than 25 years. Cassie was the same adorable kid they all are at that young age.

When John was a young officer of the Wisconsin Jaycees and ran for state president, I did not support the candidacy of the future Republican representative from Marinette. We disagreed about the state of affairs of the organization at that time. Despite my opposition to his candidacy for state president, he won. A year later, at the end of Nygren’s term, I congratulated him. And I thanked him for proving me wrong.

Before I dive into Cassie’s story, I want to state for the record that this is how politics should be played. Political foes do not need to be natural enemies. Years later, mostly by coincidence, his younger children would attend camp with my children. The familiarity among our families was comforting. While our schedules, and distance, don’t allow for a deeper connection, we are most certainly friends.

I previously have discussed my niece’s battle with heroin. For now, she is clean. Every single day, I pray it remains the same. Cassie has been on that list, too. She has been in and out of the system frequently. Suddenly, Cassie is back on the bad path. With addicts, you never know when sobriety suddenly will end.

Cassie has tried hard to break the cycle of addiction. Her father recognizes his daughter is responsible for the early choices she made. Unfortunately, her choices came with a lifetime of consequences. Consequences that have turned into a life sentence of addiction. Unless you have been close to a similar circumstance, it’s difficult to imagine the turmoil of a life condemned to this hellish addiction.

Nygren’s HOPE agenda has introduced a multitude of legislation attempting to solve the opioid epidemic. He also, while praying for hope in his daughter’s life, knows that for many it is too late.

“This is a strong reminder of how fragile the road to recovery is. We will continue to support and pray for her recovery,” Nygren said last week. “There are no words that we as a family can offer to give any real comfort for this tragic loss.”

How does a teenage girl go from teenage drinking parties to smoking pot and then on to facing first-degree homicide charges? The same is true for Skeen. How did her path lead to an early death? As big of a nightmare as this is for the Nygren family, they did not have to plan a funeral as Skeen’s family did.

Nygren and her boyfriend, Shawn Gray, have to face the consequences that came with their actions and the court system will flesh out the penalties they eventually will face. Unfortunately, the justice that ultimately will be served does not bring Skeen back to her family and it certainly does not solve the opioid problem.

Brown County Chief Deputy Todd Delain told WBAY-TV, “I would describe them (Cassie Nygren and Shawn Gray) as middlers who distribute to support their habit and to live off of, but certainly they weren’t making a lot of money doing it.”

These mid-level dealers also are victims because of their need to fuel an addiction introduced unto them. They should not be exonerated of their crimes, but their sentences also are not getting to the root of the problem.

The “middlers” are the ones reaching our kids. Yet at one time, someone reached out to them. These young people are nothing more than pawns in the grand scheme. Put one in jail and they easily are replaced with another addict desperate for the next hit and in need of cash.

According to a report in The Arizona Republic, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration reports “nearly all of the heroin … enters the country over the 1,933-mile Mexico border.” According to a “60 Minutes” report Sunday, the blame for the epidemic lies with the big three national prescription drug distributors.

It’s either time to look into the national distribution network or it’s time to take out the drug cartels. Either way, we’re up against a wall until we stop them.

Tim McCumber believes a bankrupt nation feeds no one.