In this 2008 file photo, then-Deputy Sheriff Scott Parks holds a press conference following a drug bust in Wausau. Parks is calling for passage of new policies that would give communities more tools to fight heroin addiction.
On Thursday, Wisconsin state Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, spoke at the campus of the University of Wisconsin Marathon County. Nygren related a heart-wrenching story of how heroin addiction has affected his family, and in particular his 24-year-old daughter.
Nygren is introducing four bills in the Assembly as a four-part anti-heroin package intended to attack the recent increase in demand for the controlled substance across the state.
The four bills being introduced would: require pharmacists to demand photo identification and record names of people who pick up narcotic prescription drugs; give immunity from drug possession charges to people who seek medical assistance for someone suffering from a drug overdose; allow first responders and basic emergency medical technicians to administer the anti-overdose drug naloxone, also known as Narcan, to patients; and permit drug disposal programs to accept narcotics.
Heroin is making an impact in Marathon County. In the last few weeks there have been frequent news stories here of people being prosecuted for trafficking and delivering heroin to other people who end up in overdose deaths. With these many heroin- and drug-related crimes, locking people up and throwing away the key is not working.
The current costs to house a male prisoner in the state's prison system is $31,000 per year. Housing a female prisoner in the prison system costs $41,000 per year. Our County Jail has a maximum capacity of 279 and we frequently operate at numbers exceeding that figure and house an additional 50 people in out-of-county jails at an average cost exceeding $50 per day per person housed.
Another bill Nygren is crafting is modeled after "swift and certain" programs that are currently in place in Washington and Hawaii. The "swift and certain" programs pertain to participants being able to stay out of jail by agreeing to a parole that has intensive sanctions involving frequent drug testing and monitoring, along with immediate punishments for violations.
Programs such as this have been found to be effective where they've been applied and have reduced the recidivism rates of offenders. Dwindling budget dollars make it difficult for communities to seek the means and install these programs. As Nygren mentioned, many of us can easily think of people we know who have been afflicted by controlled substances - through an addiction, as a crime victim or as an overdose death.
Nygren's bills need to become law. They will provide communities with another tool for combating the controlled substance problem before one more family has to share a tragic story about an addicted or deceased loved one.
Thank you to Wausau City Council member Keene Winters and the Center Right Coalition of Wausau for bringing Nygren to Marathon County.