A hopeful heroin fix

Wisconsin Assembly was right in passing bills to minimize number of heroin deaths

Story by Karl Enghofer, Graphic Designer

Four years ago, a father found his daughter lying on the bathroom floor, a needle in her arm and her face white as a ghost.

She was suffering a heroin overdose. She was rushed to the hospital where she recovered from her near-fatal experience.

That father is Wisconsin Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), who introduced a series of bills called the HOPE Agenda, Heroin Opiate Prevention and Education. The Assembly passed all four bills unanimously, and wait for Senate’s approval.

Two of the policies he’s pushing for are somewhat controversial. The first offers limited immunity for people who call 911 or bring overdose patients to an emergency room. At least 11 states already practice some sort of Good Samaritan Policy, protecting any person civil liabilities from alcohol or drug-related overdoses, however, most states have specific statutes and clauses.

The theory behind the policy is people are reluctant to report overdoses if doing so could subject them to criminal charges.

The second controversial policy would increase the number of emergency officials carrying naloxone (Narcan), a drug that is used to counteract the effects of drug overdoses.

Heroin use in Wisconsin is at a record high. The Department of Justice reported heroin-related arrests rose from 267 in 2008 to 673 in 2012, an increase of 152 percent. And since 1995, the number of teens ages 12 to 17 who have tried heroin increased more than 300 percent.

Arrests aren’t just increasing, but overdoses are increasing dramatically too. In Madison, the number of overdoses have doubled since 2007, Madison Fire Chief Stephen Davis said in a news conference.

The DOJ reported more than 75 percent of people who try heroin once will use it again. This fact scares me and I agree with Nygren when he told the criminal justice committee: “There is an immediate sense of urgency. This is an opportunity to save lives.”

The life-saving drug Narcan has been used in emergency rooms for years and in 16 organizations administered to use the drug, it has successfully reversed 2,642 overdoses. The drug is even now available with a prescription, and comes in a $10 nasal spray.

The controversy arises — Is a $10 antidote available at a pharmacy avoiding the larger problem at hand?

Believe it or not, voices of opposition like Bertha Madras, deputy director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy believe a life-threatening drug overdose is an important deterrent in drug use.

“Sometimes having an overdose, being in an emergency room, having that contact with a health care professional is enough to make a person snap into the reality of the situation and snap into having someone give them services,” Madras said.

Waiting for a heroin addict to overdose to prove a point, to me, is murder.

Nygren’s daughter, Cassie, experienced her parents’ divorce at age 3, sexual abuse, became pregnant at age 15 and later gave her baby up for adoption. The effects of heroin make the problems in one’s life melt away in a numb, painless ecstasy. An outsider must realize the level of desperation heroin users have just to feel good.

The first “fix” a user has can easily be their last. Humans make poor decisions and mistakes. The HOPE bill gives those who perhaps need one the most, a second chance.