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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signs package of anti-heroin bills

Apr. 8, 2014
 
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Gov. Scott Walker / AP, file

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MARINETTE — Legislation signed Monday by Gov. Scott Walker is aimed at helping the scourge of heroin use across Wisconsin, which some say has reached epidemic levels.

Walker signed four of the bills in the package of seven bills with state Rep. John Nygren, a Marinette Republican who introduced the legislation, at his side. Nygren said he has seen the impact of heroin addiction up close — through his daughter’s addiction.

“Her hope is these bills ... that were motivated by her personal story and experience will save lives and help people turn their lives around,” Nygren said after the signing ceremony. “Don’t think anyone is immune to what is going on in our country and our state.”

Among the provisions in the legislation, more emergency medical technicians would be allowed to administer a drug called naloxone that works as an antidote to heroin overdoses. It also provides legal immunity for anyone who reports an overdose, creates regional opiate treatment centers and allows municipal prescription drug collection drives.

The new laws also require identification to obtain opiate prescriptions and create quicker sanctions for parole or probation violators in an effort to get treatment to addicts more quickly.

“You look at the bios of the of the people we’ve lost to heroin and other opiates, these are often time middle class, upper-middle class, bright, wonderful young people who have the world ahead of them,” Nygren said. “It often times starts very innocently with prescription drugs, and their lives can be turned upside down.”

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the number of deaths with heroin as a contributing factor more than quintupled between 2003 and 2011, from 25 to 134.

Heroin-related arrests more than doubled statewide between 2008 and 2012, from 267 to 673, according to local law enforcement statistics compiled by the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

Marinette County Sheriff Jerry Sauve said the battle against heroin and opiate use is one law enforcement can’t handle alone and requires help from other community services and agencies.

“I’ve said many, many times that we can’t arrest our way out of this problem. Yet we have to stay on point,” he said. “These four bills he signed here today are certifiably going to be helpful for us.”

Some Marinette County officials were scheduled Tuesday to begin learning about treatment and diversion programs. The county is also working to establish a drug court, Sauve said.

One of the new laws increases funding for treatment and diversion programs offering alternatives to prosecution or incarceration for substance abuse and allows 10 to 15 new programs to receive funding.

“We’re going to have some options now for people who are addicted to this drug, and hopefully they can make an effort to get off of it, and we can make some improvements,” Sauve said.

“This is not just a law enforcement issue. I think we’re getting there, people are starting to see that and we have offer some treatment — which we will be able to do.”

Walker signed three other pieces of legislation in the anti-heroin package in Stevens Point, Eau Claire and Milwaukee. The legislation also is aimed at providing state assistance to local entities aimed at treating the root of the addiction.

“Across the state we’re hoping to draw some attention to this and make people understand that when it comes to heroin, this is not ... just an urban issue, this is a challenge all across the state,” the governor said.

“If people can address the underlying problems, that, long-term, is going to not only be more effective for them, but for the court system.”

Nathan Phelps writes for Press-Gazette Media, Green Bay

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