State Legislature Addresses Heroin Epidemic

This week, the State Senate unanimously passed the H.O.P.E legislation, a package of bills I was pleased to introduce in the State Senate that address the growing heroin epidemic in our state. These bills, having already passed the State Assembly, will now go to the Governor for his signature.

While heroin addiction has been on the rise throughout our state, western Wisconsin has been hit especially hard. In 2013, in Hudson alone there were 7 deaths due to heroin overdose. Two Hudson residents who have been directly affected by heroin shared their personal stories of addiction and tragedy at legislative public hearings. Karen Hale lost her daughter, Alysa, to a heroin overdose and is now devoting her time and energy to saving lives. Phil Drewiske, a recovering heroin addict, shared his story of battling his addiction with heroin.

Two of the bills in the H.O.P.E. package deal with prescription drugs in an effort to make them less accessible to those that may struggle with addiction. Individuals who have become addicted to heroin often times report that their history with substance abuse started by taking prescription painkillers. The first bill will require individuals to show identification in order to pick up prescriptions of highly-addictive medications at pharmacies. By having this information on hand, pharmacies will be able to assist law enforcement in solving crimes and identifying those that are abusing prescription drugs. The second bill updates existing state law in order to clearly provide statutory authority for prescription drug disposal programs. These programs provide an important service by ensuring that prescription drugs are not readily available to those who may abuse them and that unwanted drugs do not enter our water supply.

The last two bills in the H.O.P.E. package seek to prevent loss of life by aiding those that have medical emergencies due to heroin use. Heroin users often use in groups, as individuals will help one another to “shoot up.” Unfortunately, when an overdose situation occurs, other heroin users in the group tend to leave the person rather than call to report the overdose for fear of being arrested. The third bill will provide limited immunity for possession of a controlled substance when an individual calls 911 or brings a person in an overdose situation to a health care facility. Finally, the fourth bill allows trained emergency service personnel and others to legally carry the drug Naloxone, also known as Narcan. This drug counters the effects of an overdose and can save lives if administered in a timely fashion.

While these bills are an important step towards addressing the heroin epidemic, there is more work to be done. We have seen success in treatment alternative and diversion programs in dealing with substance abuse and addiction issues, and two additional bills currently before the State Legislature seek to build on that success. One bill would create regional comprehensive opioid treatment programs in underserved, high-need areas. The second would create an evidence based program working with individuals on probation and parole for immediate sanctions for probation violations. This legislation will further our efforts as we address prevention, treatment, and the saving of lives.

What are your thoughts on combating the heroin epidemic? Please free feel to contact me on this or any other issue by calling my office at 1-800-862-1092 or 608-266-7745 or sending me an e-mail at Sen.Harsdorf@legis.wi.gov.

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