For the past decade, Wisconsin has seen an increase in drug abuse fatalities, overdoses and drug-related crime. Heroin, prescription drugs and methamphetamine are becoming more popular in both urban and rural areas and it is having a significant impact on communities, families and, unfortunately, our children. It’s an issue that has gone on far too long and we have been taking steps in the Legislature to help our families avoid the pain and suffering that these drugs bring.
In the past few years, you might have seen the term “opioid crisis” come up in the news. “Opioids” is the term used to describe a class of drugs including heroin, fentanyl, codeine, morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone that are often used legally for pain relief, anesthesia, and tranquilizers for large animals. However, when they are used for these medical purposes, opioids are carefully measured, monitored and administered because these drugs are dangerously addictive and if abused, can cause injury or death.
Addiction is a difficult road, not just for the person afflicted, but for their family and friends as well. Rep. John Nygren, who represents Marinette, has a daughter who struggled with addiction and relapse. This led him to focus on fighting the opioid crisis in the Legislature. He began introducing bills in 2013 to curb problems related to addiction and access to opioids, which eventually became the Heroin, Opioid Prevention and Education (HOPE) Agenda.
In response to the ongoing opioid crisis in our state, Gov. Scott Walker called for a special session in January 2017 to focus on solving the problem. In the past, special sessions have generally been called for natural disasters or if there was a statewide problem that required immediate attention. Given Wisconsin’s dramatic rise in drug addiction problems resulting in numerous deaths and a spike in criminal drug convictions, thegGovernor decided a Special Session dedicated to opioids was urgently needed.
Since 2013, 28 bills have been signed into law as part of the HOPE Agenda to help combat the opioid crisis in Wisconsin. On July 17, Gov. Walker signed 11 of those bills into law.
Some of the ways the HOPE Agenda will help is by allocating $2 million a year into treatment and diversion programs that help individuals who have committed certain nonviolent crimes related to opioids become members of society again. When a person who is addicted to drugs is put into jail without treatment, the odds of them relapsing and getting involved with drugs inside of prison or after release are higher than if they had gone through a rehabilitation program with a support system to hold them accountable. Treatment and diversion programs save money spent housing criminals and are more successful at solving the underlying problem.
I am proud of Rep. Nygren’s efforts and the Legislature for passing bills to fight the opioid crisis, but there is always more work to be done. Hopefully, future efforts can focus on methamphetamine addiction, which is a big problem in rural areas of the state.
In 2016, the Department of Justice released a study on methamphetamine use and found that meth use is high in areas north of U.S. Highway 29 and west of Interstate 39, which includes much of our area and the district I represent.
The study also showed that there has been an increase between 250 percent and 300 percent in the use of meth between 2011 and 2015. Methamphetamine abuse has widespread effects and is often connected to child abuse and neglect cases, serious driving offenses and fatalities due to overdose or the explosion of a lab where it is produced.
In the Chippewa Valley, we have all seen the horrible effects of the drug crisis, whether it be through personal experience or in the news. It breaks my heart every time I read an article about an area family torn apart because a family member was producing meth or using heroin. I want my constituents to feel safe from the dangers this crisis has presented, and I am hopeful the new laws that Gov. Walker signed this week will help. With greater education, law enforcement and increased access to treatment, I hope that we can prevent drug abuse from destroying our communities together.
If you or your loved ones are involved with drug abuse, please get in touch with health services or law enforcement for help and treatment. For more information on opioids and methamphetamine, please check out these resources:
Wisconsin Department of Health Services, https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/, 608-266-1865
Department of Justice, https://www.doj.state.wi.us/, 608-266-1221