Sadly, it seems like the news is a steady stream of stories about people who have died from a drug overdose. This tragedy strikes not only the rich and famous, but families right here in Wisconsin, in rural and urban communities across the state.
Increasingly, the drug of choice is heroin. Between 2011 and 2013, the number of heroin cases sent to the state crime lab almost doubled – from 579 to 1,056 and the incidents are spreading across the state. Almost 200 people died from heroin-related deaths last year, compared to an average of 29 deaths a year between 2000 and 2007.
Heroin is cheap and many people are turning to it as prescription drugs become harder to get ahold of and abuse. Heroin is often cut, or combined with, other substances like sugar, Benadryl, quinine and caffeine. This makes it impossible for the user to know the potency of the heroin, putting them at risk every time they use the drug.
Heroin slows heart and lung functions, so not knowing the strength of each dose is risky behavior. What’s more, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, 75 percent of people who try heroin once will try it again.
To address problems with the growing use of heroin, Rep. John Nygren and Sen. Sheila Harsdorf introduced a series of bills that have been approved by the state Assembly and will likely be voted on by the Senate this spring. These bills are not a magic bullet, and will not end all drug use in the state, but they are an important step to addressing a growing problem.
The first bill, Assembly Bill 445 increases the security of prescription drugs by requiring individuals to show proper identification when picking up Schedule 2 and Schedule 3 narcotic or opiate prescription drugs unless the pharmacist knows the person picking up the prescription.
It would not prohibit individuals from picking up prescription drugs for others, but it would keep track of who is picking up these drugs and would assist law enforcement agencies in criminal investigations. Law enforcement would not be able to access this information unless they go through proper legal channels. Acceptable identification includes driver’s licenses, U.S. passport, military ID or state ID.
Naloxone is a drug used to counter the effects of a heroin or opiate overdose. Under current law, basic EMTs are not allowed to carry naloxone. Assembly Bill 446 would allow all levels of EMTs and first responders to be trained to administer naloxone and would allow them to carry the drug. Getting this drug into the hands of first responders could help save the life of someone overdosing on heroin.
Assembly Bill 447 is a Good Samaritan bill. It grants limited immunity to those who call for help when someone is suffering from an overdose. It came out of recommendations made by the Wisconsin State Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Prevention Committee. Under the bill, the person who calls 911 could not be prosecuted for simple drug possession or possession of drug paraphernalia.
The bill would not provide protection for drug dealers. Rather, the goal is to help the family or friends of someone who is suffering from an overdose do the right thing without being afraid they will be prosecuted. This bill would also provide immunity for a bystander who administers naloxone in an attempt to help a person who is suffering from a heroin or opiate overdose.
Assembly Bill 448 regulates drug disposal programs and encourages more communities to set up drug disposal programs. A number of communities in the state run these programs in an effort to ensure that prescription drugs do not end up in the water supply or in the hands of people for whom the medication was not prescribed.
State criminal law does not recognize these programs; the law can sometimes deter communities from undertaking drug disposal programs.
The Department of Natural Resources estimated that 13 million pounds of prescription drugs were prescribed in the state in 2010, and about one-third, or 4.4 million pounds went unused.
In 2011, drug collection programs collected roughly 93,500 pounds of prescription drugs, or 2 percent of the amount generated. The rest may have been flushed, disposed of in the trash or sitting in medicine cabinets.
As I said before, these bills won’t prevent heroin and opiate abuse, but they provide communities with more tools to get help for those harmed by these drugs. I look forward to voting on these bills soon.