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MADISON, Wis. - Gov. Scott Walker signed a package of bills aimed at curbing heroin addiction in Wisconsin.
In four bill signings Monday, the governor signed a package of seven bills into law, taking various aims at treatment and prosecution of heroin addicts.
Walker started his day in Marinette with Rep. John Nygren, who authored the package of bills called the Heroin Opiate Prevention and Education or HOPE agenda. Nygren championed the measures by telling his family's personal story about his daughter's struggle with heroin addiction.
"While it was difficult in the beginning, because your personal stories are just that, personal, it became a call to action to try and make a difference for the people I represent," said Nygren. "We don't have any aspersions that we think any of these bills will end the problem that we face, but I do believe it's going to make a difference to make it better."
The bills signed at the courthouse there would give immunity to those calling 911 to report an overdose and create new treatment programs and court alternatives for those arrested for heroin use.
"Having both here in Marinette County and elsewhere more programs by which the state is helping counties provide help to get people free and clean of their addiction in a position where we provide better alternatives, that is a more cost-effective way going forward," the governor said in response to questions about the costs of the bills.
The governor also signed bills in Stevens Point, Eau Claire and Milwaukee, aiming to raise awareness about the issue across the state. Other bills signed include one to allow municipalities to hold drug collection drives, to require an ID to obtain some prescription drugs and to put the overdose reversal drug Narcan in the hands of first responders.
That bill is important to many in rural areas, as basic-level emergency medical technicians hadn't been allowed to use the drug because of state licensing rules.
Now EMS service in Mazomanie will be carrying Narcan, or Naxalone, in their ambulance rigs. The drug can be injected or put up the nose, and will immediately reverse the effects of an overdose. Until now, if Mazomanie EMTs responded to an overdose, they'd have to meet an intercept ambulance from Madison or Middleton that would have Narcan on board.
"Actually we have had a few deaths because of overdoses," said Jim Wick, director of Mazomanie EMS.
When asked if Narcan would have saved those patients, Wick said it may have.
"It would have been a good thing," Wick said. "I have to believe it would have been better for the patient."
All of the EMTs in Mazomanie will be getting trained this week on nasal Narcan administration.
Only three EMS locations in Dane County will newly be getting the drug, including Mazomanie, Belleville and Brooklyn. Other services in Dane County have a higher licensing level and have been carrying it for a while.
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