By Hub City Times staff
MARSHFIELD — A Marshfield group focused on preventing youth substance abuse heard from Wisconsin’s foremost expert on the state’s biggest drug problem during a Sept. 18 visit at Good Shepherd Church in Marshfield.
State Rep. John Nygren addressed the Marshfield Area Coalition for Youth (MACY) during an event focused on recognizing community partners who have dedicated time and efforts to help achieve MACY’s vision of making Marshfield the best place to live, work, and raise a family.
The Marinette republican was the driving force behind the Heroin, Opioid Prevention and Education (HOPE) Agenda, an ongoing legislative effort aimed at combating the state’s heroin epidemic.
Nygren shared his family’s personal story, recalling his daughter Cassie’s struggles with heroin addiction and subsequent legislation to help her and others.
“The request to get involved from a legislative standpoint actually came from Cassie,” Nygren said. “When I began to see the obituaries of my friends’ and neighbors’ kids on almost a weekly basis, Cassie’s request kind of hit even more so. It wasn’t so much about our situation. It was about our community and the place that I call home.
“Right about that same time, I began to look at legislative agenda. We call it the HOPE agenda. And the reason we call it the HOPE agenda, I remember asking Cassie why, and her answer to me was, ‘Dad, a lot of people my age, we don’t see a lot of hope for the future.’”
The HOPE Agenda has led to 28 pieces of legislation, including requiring patients to show identification when they pick up opiates and the ability to get the heroin antidote Narcan into the hands of first responders.
“The day Cassie overdosed they were able to administer Narcan, and we worked with first responders throughout the state and created an exemption for first responders from a liability standpoint to be able to administer Narcan to save that life,” Nygren explained.
“So that was the first step, Narcan. It has been expanded a number of times since then to now that it is actually available in an over-the-counter style situation through a statewide standing order.”
The HOPE Agenda also produced the Good Samaritan Act, which grants immunity from prosecution to those who seek help when someone has overdosed. The legislation also requires the health care community to use the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and mandates that information be entered within 24 hours.
“It actually went live — the requirement went live — in April this year. However, the third and fourth quarter of 2016 versus 2015: In the third quarter there were 8 million fewer doses, and in the fourth quarter there were 11 million fewer doses over the previous year, so that just is telling you that even before the requirement (went) live, they were beginning to use the system, ask questions, and I think another big aspect of all of this conversation has been taking place is people are more aware. The patient is more aware of what this potentially means to them, not 100 percent aware, but there is definitely a great awareness that these drugs are addictive and should be respected.”
Nygren and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch are co-chairs of Gov. Scott Walker’s Task Force on Opioid Abuse, made up of experts from education, health, law enforcement, and other areas that help identify opportunities in the fight against the epidemic.
For the past 11 years, MACY has focused on preventing youth substance abuse. The initial focus started with underage drinking and tobacco use and has expanded to prescription drug, marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin abuse.
“Probably the proudest thing I have to say is efforts like this. So there are a lot of communities that ignore the challenges that they face. When the reality slaps you in the face or the reality ends up in your house, you can continue to ignore it, or you can try to do something about it,” Nygren said. “Community efforts like this do matter, and getting kids to talk about this with their peers is really important. Having those voices in your school do matter.”