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Rep. Nygren looks to expand drug treatment options in new HOPE bills

State Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, speaks on the Wisconsin State Assembly Floor. (Undated photo courtesy of Nygren's office)

A Marinette County Republican is about to introduce four more bills designed to combat prescription drug and heroin abuse. One measure would increase state grant money for treatment programs by $2 million a year.

Continuing what he calls the HOPE (Heroin, Opiate, Prevention, and Education) Agenda, State Rep. John Nygren wants to increase state grant money for drug treatment programs again.

"We're proposing to provide some more dollars for treatment and diversion programs which have proven to be very successful," said Nygren. "An example of that might be Brown County's drug court. Marinette County also has one now."

Click here to read a draft of the bill.

Brown County District Attorney David Lasee says law enforcement is still targeting people who deal drugs, but the treatment court programs aim to curb the demand.

"We have seen a significant decrease in recidivism rates for individuals who have gone through that court," said Lasee.

He expects the county would ask the state for more money if it's available.

"Certain other aspects like transitional living, detox programs, things that the county is sort of stepping up to provide, if we could get those funds from the state, certainly that would provide assistance to the individuals who are in those treatment courts, and allow us to continue to expand those courts to bring in a larger population," Lasee said.

Wisconsin Department of Justice spokeswoman Anne E. Schwartz says the state currently has roughly $4 million a year to give out for drug treatment grants under the treatment and diversion (TAD) program.

Nygren says spending more money on treatment would benefit taxpayers.

"Especially when you compare those resources, the investments there, to incarceration dollars: $35,000 a year for a man, $41,000 a year for a woman," he said. "The return on the investment, in those cases recidivism is almost 100 percent."

An outline of the other three proposals, according to Nygren's office:

- Allowing the Medical Examining Board (MEB), Board of Nursing, the Dentistry Examining Board, and the Optometry Examining Board to issue guidelines for physicians to ensure best practices in prescribing controlled substances. Click here to read a draft of the bill.

- Modifying Wisconsin's treatment facility regulations, as our state is more restrictive in its regulations for opioid treatment programs than the Federal Government. This change will lessen the administrative burden of recertification and allow opioid treatment services to commit more on their treatment efforts. Click here to read a draft of the bill.

- Synthetic urine has the potential to be used as a masking agent that may allow a drug user to falsify the results of a drug test. This bill would criminalize the use, possession, manufacture, distribution and advertisement or any substance that could be a substitute for a bodily fluid in a drug test. Click here to read a draft of the bill.

It's still early in the process for these ideas, and there will be chances for public comment during the committee process. Nygren aide Jennifer Malcore said Wednesday that the period for co-sponsorship has closed, and the actual bills are about to be introduced.

"These additional bills will have to go through the committee process for possible amendments and to try and generate some support," said Nygren.

And next month Nygren expects the Assembly will take up four other bills introduced in September that target prescription drug abuse.

"Where it starts in most cases is with prescription drugs," Nygren said. "About 90 percent of all people start with something that's legal, at least when prescribed by a doctor. So our focus this time is reducing the amount of prescription drugs out on the street."

Earlier in December, Gov. Scott Walker signed the latest HOPE bill into law which makes a heroin and prescription drug overdose antidote more readily available.

The Wisconsin State Crime Lab says it analyzed 1,130 heroin cases last year - double the amount from three years earlier.

Nygren has targeted drug abuse with legislation after his daughter was sent to prison for possessing narcotics.

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