FENNIMORE — State Reps. Travis Tranel (R–Cuba City) and John Nygren (R–Marinette) hosted a roundtable discussion concerning the growing heroin problem in southwest Wisconsin Jan. 27.
Multiple law enforcement agencies were represented at the roundtable held at Southwest Wisconsin Technical College, including the Muscoda, Platteville, Boscobel, Lancaster, Hazel Green and Cuba City police departments. Representatives of the Grant County Sheriff’s Department, including Sheriff Nate Dreckman, were in attendance as well.
Grant County Circuit Judge Craig Day also took part in the discussion, as did Grant County District Attorney Lisa Riniker and three members of the Grant County Board of Supervisors.
“One thing we find in the Legislature is, I always say we are about an inch deep and a mile wide,” said Tranel. “You folks are experts on this issue and you know a lot more about it than we do.
“When we draft legislation we obviously know it is a problem, but we have to come to people that are experts and have their feet next to the fire, and that is you. This is how legislation gets made.”
Nygren authored four pieces of legislation to combat the heroin epidemic in the state. Tranel co-sponsored the legislation, titled “H.O.P.E.,” or Heroin Opiate Prevention and Education:
• AB 446, Naloxone for Overdoses: The bill allows those who are properly trained to administer Naloxone, the drug used to counter the effects of an opiate overdose. This will allow an overdose to be more quickly counteracted, potentially saving lives.
• AB 447, 911 Good Samaritan: The bill grants limited immunity for a person who calls for help for someone who has overdosed from a controlled substance.
• AB 448, Drug Disposal Program: The bill promotes the safe disposal of unused prescription and over-the-counter medicines by allowing for local governments to have community drug disposal programs.
• AB 445, ID for Prescription: The bill requires individuals to show proper identification when picking up certain types of narcotic/opiate prescription medications and keeps track of this record.
The four bills passed the Assembly 96–0 earlier this month and are awaiting action in the Senate.
“I knew this was something that most agreed with, but seeing the unanimous support reiterates how big of a problem this really is,” said Nygren. “Legislators don’t vote for things just because maybe I am a nice guy or I come from the right part of the state; they vote for things because they know it is important to the people they represent too.”
Nygren said the vote “reinforces that concern that it is a statewide problem. The good news is, Republicans, Democrats, we are all working together. The people that have unfortunately died of overdoses, nobody cares if they were Republicans or Democrats, all we know is they are no longer with us and that is the tragic thing.”
Nygren also introduced two new pieces of legislation in late January. One bill proposes a pilot program for treatment in underserved and rural areas. The other would implement a “Rapid Response” relating to community corrections, establishing a clear set of expectations in the corrections systems, as well as ramifications for falling short of those expectations.
“We want these people to be productive citizens,” said Nygren. “I don’t think we can afford to say we are going to house them for the rest of their lives and they are going to be wards of the state. I don’t think that is helpful for any of us.”
As the discussion began, Nygren shared the story of his daughter, who suffered a heroin overdose in 2009.
Emergency personnel administered Naloxone, which Nygren said saved her life.
“When you have a kid that is addicted, you are always waiting for that phone call to come where something bad happens,” said Nygren. “A life in corrections is tragic, but it is not the ultimate tragedy like I have heard from parents throughout this state.”
Day expressed a concern with the lack of residential treatment facilities in Southwest Wisconsin.
“You have your inpatient, which is an initial detox phase — on the other end of the spectrum you have outpatient type services,” he said. “In between is this residential treatment where you live for some extended period of time.
“Platteville closed a hospital, which strikes me as readily convertible to that kind of thing. Prairie du Chien is closing a hospital. Something that someone could think about as part of the community corrections is getting some residential treatment. It is having a place where these people are accountable daily, and save you some prison beds. It is more effective, probably, and cheaper.”
The number of heroin cases statewide has increased from 579 in 2011 to 1,056 in 2013, according to the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Day pointed out Monday afternoon there were three heroin-related deaths in Grant County in 2013.
“Heroin addicts eventually are going to die,” said Nygren. “At some point in time, if you keep using and using, you are going to kill yourself because you are going to run across a purity that you just can’t handle. If nothing else would deter people, I hope that would.”
Nygren said the medical community must also be educated and become part of the discussion. Heroin users will often abuse prescription painkillers and then turn to heroin, which is much cheaper.
“We need to have a serious discussion with the medical community about their practices,” he said. “I think a prescription, on almost every case, unless you are wealthy, will lead to heroin.
“It is economics. Eventually they run out of things to steal and to pawn, and heroin is the next step.”
Grant County Chief Deputy Jack Johnson said a dose of heroin may cost $10 to $15.
“If you can go to that starting problem area, maybe that will get it,” said Lancaster Police Chief Steve Zabel.
Nygren said the one of the problems of the heroin epidemic is it is found in all demographics.
“We all thought we grew up in Mayberry,” he said. “Even Mayberry has heroin now.”
Tranel was happy to see the healthy turnout for the roundtable on a blustery winter day.
“Obviously, this shows law enforcement in the area care,” said Tranel. “No one had to came to this meeting; they all voluntarily came.
“It makes me feel good and makes me feel like there is hope, no pun intended. There is hope.”