Pubdate: Thu, 05 Jan 2017
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI)
Copyright: 2017 Journal Sentinel Inc.
Author: Jason Stein


[photo] Gov. Scott Walker announced the creation of a state task force to
address the Wisconsin's troubling increase in opioid abuse at a Walgreens
pharmacy at 3522 W. Wisconsin Ave.(Photo: Maggie Angst / Milwaukee Journal

Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday called for a special legislative session to
fight heroin addiction and ordered state agencies to ramp up their
response to a drug that kills hundreds in Wisconsin each year.

The Republican governor held series of events Thursday in Weston, Green
Bay and Chippewa Falls to announce the special session and the executive
orders, which seek to implement recommendations from a report issued by
Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette).

"This is a public health crisis, and that's why I'm calling a special
session of the Legislature and directing state agencies to ramp up the
state's response," Walker said in his statement.

"It is a crisis in this state," Walker said later Thursday of the opiate
epidemic in a speech to the Wisconsin Bankers Association in Madison. "We
need to tackle this problem head on."

Addressing the issue will stem a public health problem and help the
state's economy, he said.

"If we get this right, we can get those men and women back in the workforce."

The announcement came ahead of Walker's annual state of the state speech
to the Legislature Tuesday. It also comes as the USA TODAY
Network-Wisconsin reported that heroin deaths in the state rose for the
ninth straight year in 2015, with the 281 lives lost to the drug amounting
to three times the 2010 total.

The increase in heroin deaths was the smallest since 2010 and the deaths
from opioids -- which include heroin and prescription painkillers --
actually dropped for the first time since 2008. But the number of total
opioid deaths topped the number of Wisconsin traffic deaths for the third
straight year.

Walker on Thursday ordered the state Department of Health Services to
apply for up to $7.6 million a year in federal funding through the 21st
Century CURES Act to fight the drug.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin pushed to get that anti-addiction money included
in the broader federal law and wrote to Walker last month to urge him to
make use of it in Wisconsin.

"This epidemic is not a partisan issue, and a strong partnership between
the federal government and our state will be essential to an effective
response," the Wisconsin Democrat wrote in December. "Applying for the new
state grant funding made available last week will be a significant step in
advancing local prevention, treatment and recovery efforts."

The governor also ordered: the state Department of Corrections to better
identify and treat drug abusers during their prison sentences and after
their release; the Department of Safety and Professional Services to
ensure tight, uniform standards and practices on the prescribing of opioid
pain medications; the Department of Veterans Affairs to guard against the
overprescribing of such drugs in veterans' homes; and the Commissioner of
Insurance to survey insurers about their coverage of treatment for
addiction to opioids.

Walker also called on the Legislature to hold a special session on several
bills to fight addiction by:

* Giving school nurses or other school workers legal immunity when
administering the life-saving anti-overdose drug naloxone, also known by
the brand name Narcan. Nygren said the Wisconsin School Boards Association
requested that bill.

* Provide limited immunity for those who overdose on heroin to ensure that
their friends don't avoid calling 911 out of fear of later prosecution.
But Nygren said he also wanted to ensure that authorities maintain a legal
hammer to force reluctant addicts into treatment. So a separate bill would
also allow for heroin abusers to be civilly committed in court to make
sure they receive help with their addiction. The procedure would be
similar to one currently used with alcoholics.

* Requiring a prescription for cough syrup that contains the opioid codeine.

* Allowing the University of Wisconsin System to charter an addiction
recovery high school that would combine traditional classes with treatment
for substance abuse.

"That's one of the barriers to treatment (of teens) because you have to
take the kid out of the school," Nygren said.

Nygren has become a national leader on fighting opioid addiction in recent
years, building that profile on painful ground. The lawmaker from
northeast Wisconsin has a daughter who has struggled with heroin addiction
and in August 2009 Nygren found her on the bathroom floor in the midst of
an overdose.

His daughter survived and her father has helped to pass a series of 17
bipartisan laws addressing the problem since 2013. Nygren said Thursday
that he believed the state's actions are making a difference but are still
not enough.

"There is some progress being made but I say it all the time: It's no time
to pat ourselves on the back," he said.
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