State, Local Lawmakers Convene For La Crosse Heroin Task Force

Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette)
Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) has proposed bills to slow the tide of heroin-related deaths by getting quicker treatment to those who overdose, and by making drugs that can lead to heroin addiction harder to get.

Several state lawmakers attended La Crosse County’s heroin task force meeting Thursday. Local and state leaders say they need each other to fight the growing problem.

State Sen. Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse and state Rep. Lee Nerison of Westby have had ongoing talks with La Crosse area officials about heroin’s devastating effects, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary for them to attend the county’s heroin task force meeting. But Rep. John Nygren of Marinette made the trek across the state to hear how local officials are coming together to tackle heroin.

The Assembly recently passed a package of bills, authored by Nygren, aimed to combat heroin and better treat people who are addicted. Nygren’s daughter survived a heroin overdose a few years ago.

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At the La Crosse meeting, Nygren actively took notes and pressed to learn more about local issues with prescription drugs. He says he’s taking what he learns at this and similar drug task force meetings back to Madison to craft more legislation.

“I am not naïve enough to think that any of the bills we will pass are going to be the silver bullet to stop this. This is an ongoing battle,“ Nygren said. ”Unfortunately, the successes are difficult to measure. Unfortunately our failures are easy to measure, when people die.”

Keith Lease is the heroin task force co-chair and executive director of Coulee Council on Addictions. He says the legislature’s bills have raised awareness about the heroin problem and is happy they may pass the Good Samaritan law, which provides immunity to people who report overdoses. “That’s going play a large role across the board from all of our areas of focus,” Lease said, “if it goes through and is signed by the governor.”

The state Senate will take up the heroin bills in February.