MARINETTE – Flanked by law enforcement officers, medical personnel and state legislators, Gov. Scott Walker signed four of seven heroin-related bills into law in Marinette Monday morning.
The laws are intended to help both law enforcement and drug addicts curb the state’s growing heroin problem.
State crime labs processed more than 1,000 heroin cases in 57 of the state’s 72 counties last year. That’s up from nearly 650 cases in 56 counties the year before. In 2011, 37 counties tallied about 600 cases.
Heroin overdoses are to blame for nearly 200 deaths in 2012.
“I think, a lot of times, people in the past thought it was just in Milwaukee, it was just an urban problem,” said Walker. “This is a challenge all across the state – particularly in rural parts.”
“There’s not a lot of treatment, here, in Marinette County,” said Nygren.
The package, authored by State Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, is known as the HOPE Agenda. HOPE stands for Heroin Opiate Prevention and Education.
“This has been our battle – but, I guess the person that probably deserves the most credit for today is my daughter, Cassie. Because, this is a story we wouldn’t have shared.”
Heroin addiction’s been a personal battle for Nygren. His daughter is in prison because of it.
“But I know that she is excited about today,” Nygren said after the bill signing.
Some of give legal protection to someone helping a person who is overdosing, another creates more regional treatment programs for under-served areas and a third changes how parole and probation violators are punished.
The laws passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support. But they also pass on some financial costs to taxpayers.
“Why are we spending these millions of dollars for these types of legislation?” asked FOX 11’s Bill Miston to Nygren.
“First of all, from a personal standpoint, I don’t think that anyone is immune to what is going on in our county,” answered Nygren. “And then the other side of it, from a financial side – if you look at the social cost to our state and the real costs, the social costs, the break-ins, the lives lost, the people who aren’t able to grow up to be good tax-paying citizens of our state, there’s a significant loss.”
FOX 11 did a fact check to find out how expensive prison can be.
On average, each male inmate costs the state more than $32,000 a year; women – more than $40,000.
“Some of these bills have long-term fiscal implications. Others are undetermined,” said FOX 11’s Bill Miston to Gov. Walker. “Can these be sustained over the years?”
“I think so,” Walker replied. “Because, if you look at (Treatment Alternatives and Diversions), it’s why, not just in heroin-related cases, we put a million dollars more into that program than the budget. The reason being, that if we can keep people out of the criminal justice system, every dollar spent, it’s about $1.90 savings.”
Walker and Nygren say money isn’t being randomly thrown at heroin addiction, but being used to look for solutions to the problem.
If the laws don’t work, Walker says they will be reviewed.
Heroin addiction experts say now the next step is to educate the thousands of drug users about the new laws, which they say can be difficult.
The governor signed the three remaining bills during stops in Stevens Point, Eau Claire and Milwaukee later in the day.