New weapons against heroin

Wisconsin has some new weapons against the war on heroin thanks to Marinette lawmaker John Nygren.

State Rep. Nygren took the lead in drafting a package of bills to combat heroin abuse. All seven bills were written by Nygren, R-Marinette, whose daughter, Cassie, has struggled with a heroin addiction and was sentenced to a year and a half in prison in 2009.

Heroin is a major problem today.

Heroin use and overdose deaths have increased dramatically in Wisconsin, reports the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

“We’ve had quite an issue that was well-documented here in Marinette County about the heroin epidemic, if you will,” Marinette County Sheriff Jerry Sauve said at the bill-signing ceremony.

“Our jail is a decade old and overcrowded and it has affected so many people in so many ways, and not in a good way,” Sheriff Sauve said in a report in the Marinette EagleHerald. “Today is the crescendo in getting us some bills that will be signed into law.”

Other states, including Michigan, are reporting a dramatic increase in heroin. Why? Drug users are shifting from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to heroin, which is much cheaper.

Heroin is a “significant” public health problem in Michigan, Angela Minicuci, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Community Health told The Associated Press.

The Michigan Department of Community Health says heroin abuse can result in fatal overdoses, infections of the heart lining and valves, liver and kidney disease and pulmonary issues related to pneumonia.

That’s not all. Those who inject heroin are at high risk for contracting HIV and hepatitis C, officials said.

Heroin overdose deaths in Michigan increased from 271 during the four-year period of 1999-2002 to 728 from 2010-2012, the Michigan health department said.

Additionally, admissions to publicly funded programs for heroin treatment doubled from about 6,500 in 2002 to about 13,600 in 2013, officials said.

In Wisconsin, officials report that the proportion of drug-related deaths involving heroin more than doubled between 2005 and 2010.

Heroin’s allure is puzzling.

It is highly addictive. Heroin is derived from the morphine alkaloid found in opium and is roughly 2-3 times more potent.

Heroin exhibits an euphoric “rush” to the central nervous system.

Heroin is most often injected, however, it may also be smoked, snorted, used as a suppository, or orally ingested, experts say.

Smoking and sniffing heroin do not produce a “rush” as quickly or as intensely as intravenous injection. Oral ingestion does not usually lead to a “rush,” but use of heroin in suppository form may have intense euphoric effects.

Regardless, heroin is highly addictive by any given route.

Once hooked, addicts are consumed with getting their next fix.

As one might expect, heroin users have a hard time keeping steady employment. That’s where burglaries, robberies, and break-ins come in. They need cash for their next fix.

If they decide to quit, it’s an uphill battle.

Once in withdrawal, users feel like their bones are breaking. Fluids leak from every orifice. They sweat and get the chills and shakes.

The withdrawal itself doesn’t kill, but if addicts can’t stay the course, they often go back to heroin.

Unfortunately, with lowered tolerance, many overdose and die.

Specifically, Nygren’s bills include additional funding for new and existing treatment facilities, as well as short-term sanctions for parole and probation violators. The legislation shifts the approach in dealing with heroin and opiate users. It promotes treatment and awareness instead of putting people in jail.

Other bills in Nygren’s proposals include one that provides a level of legal immunity to someone who helps during a drug overdose, and one that allows first responders to use the drug Narcan, which counteracts heroin overdoses.

Nygren found widespread support for his package of bills. Not one bill faced a dissenting vote. Michigan is also considering a similar Narcan proposal.

“The spiral of opiate and heroin abuse is unrelenting but so is our will to defeat it,” Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said in a statement. “And today marks an important step in ridding our great state of this evil.”

“These bills are smart on crime and will help expand accessibility to treatment,” said Nygren. “Opiate addiction affects people from all walks of life. While some may consider addiction to be an inner-city problem, we know firsthand that our rural areas are also at risk.”

“We also need to change the way we view addiction,” said Nygren. “It’s not just criminal behavior – it’s a mental health issue. The key is to be smart on crime.”