Heroin-related deaths in Dane County have more than tripled in five years, to at least 32 last year.
And when overdoses from oxycodone and other opiates are included, the annual county death toll doubles to more than 60, with nearly 300 hospitalizations.
The problem is growing across Wisconsin and the nation, especially among young people — including the daughter of state Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette.
Nygren, who nearly lost his daughter, Cassie, to a heroin overdose in 2009, has done Wisconsin a great service by sharing his story and urging action. His daughter and many other young people and their families hurt by this epidemic have done the same.
Nygren just steered several smart bills through the state Assembly. The Senate should approve and send the measures to the governor’s desk.
One bill would let more emergency personnel carry the drug naloxone, which counteracts the effects of heroin and other opiates. Known by its brand name Narcan, naloxone can reverse an overdose in minutes.
The inexpensive drug has been credited with saving thousands of lives. Yet most firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians — as well as the family and friends of addicts — aren’t allowed to carry and administer it. The bill would change that, provided some training occurs.
Another Nygren bill would grant immunity from drug possession charges to people who call 911 to report an overdose or take someone to an emergency room for medical help.
Nygren also wants patients to have to show identification when picking up prescription drugs that are often abused. Given that an ID card is already required for buying something as simple as over-the-counter decongestant (to deter the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine), a similar requirement for opiates is easily justified.
Nygren’s package of legislation would encourage more communities to set up disposal sites for unwanted or unused drugs.
Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Shorewood, a nurse, is right that more intervention and treatment are still needed for addicts. Yet she and every other Democrat in the Assembly wisely supported Nygren’s bills this week.
The proposals are a strong start toward slowing heroin’s death count.