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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

 10:14 AM 

Wood says arrests helped him finally get sober

Rep. Jeff Wood said today he is grateful he did not kill or hurt anyone while he was driving under the influence, but told fellow lawmakers he did not regret what happened.

He also said he is guilty of the charges filed against him after his first arrest, but says he is fighting the other two counts because he believed he was taking the prescribed amounts of medication that he was on when he was pulled over.

Wood, who faces expulsion over his three arrests in a 12-month period for operating while intoxicated, gave a committee overseeing the expulsion resolution filed against him his version of what happened between his first troubles with alcohol as a teenager and his completion of a treatment program to help him remain sober.

He said he quit drinking in his early 20s after realizing he had a problem with alcohol and didn't start up again until after his first election to the Assembly at age 33. He said that use began to spiral out of control, particularly as he warded off personal attacks after leaving the GOP and running as an independent in 2008. He quit again after that election, but took it up again after coming back to the Assembly in 2009.

He said his three arrests were what it finally took to get him sober.

"I don't regret what happened because I really do believe that was what it was going to take to get me sober," Wood said. "In the long run, that's more important."

Wood also argued his arrests should be between him and his constituents, who would be left without representation through the end of the year if he were kicked out of office. He said he should be allowed instead to provide the best representation for them that he can.

"I do think that being an advocate for my constituents for the next nine months and trying to set the best example I can is fulfilling the best promise that I can make to them," he said.

Wood told the committee he was clearly guilty of the charges for his first arrest, adding that he regretted his actions. But he contests the charges in the second two arrests, which he attributed to the drugs that he was prescribed to treat anxiety.

Wood said he was first given a prescription after his initial arrest and the ensuing media scrutiny, which he said sent him into a depression. He said he noticed various problems with the medications he was given, including loss of memory, and quit taking it after having trouble finding a dosage that made him comfortable. He also canceled his prescription.

He started an out-patient treatment and was attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but after a "particularly stressful day" at the Capitol, he found an empty pill bottle in his desk and a prescription. He filled the prescription and took the drug while he was also taking cough medicine for a bad cold. He said he didn't realize how the two could interact, and he was picked up the next day near Wausau.

Following that arrest, a friend suggested he try a VA hospital for treatment, and he was accepted at a program in Tomah.

There, he was again prescribed a medication to help him deal with his anxiety over the ensuing media coverage. The pills were handed out by the VA staff each day, he said.

He said his roommate, a Vietnam veteran, left the program and counselors asked Wood if he knew where the man was going. He said he did and went to find him. He had taken his medication for the day, but insisted it was within he guidelines. He came back after not finding him and was given more meds by the nursing staff because he felt stressed.

He said the staff took him to his room, he went to bed and the next thing he remembers is waking up in jail. Video from that third arrest shows Wood stumbling badly at times as he fails a field sobriety test.

"I do want to say that right after that, no matter what the cost was, I had to get into a good treatment facility," Wood said.

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