Rep. John Nygren On Unanimous Passage Of Heroin Bills

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Rep. John Nygren On Unanimous Passage Of Heroin Bills

Premiere Date: 
January 17, 2014

Nygren discusses the bills' Assembly passage, as well as his daughter's heroin struggles.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Robin Vos:

I would prefer to do what we did last fall, which is don't say let's figure out new programs to spend it on, but say let's get it in the hands of families all across Wisconsin so they can decide what is best for them.

Frederica Freyberg:

Speaker Robin Vos on how to spend a new revenue surplus projected this week by the legislative fiscal bureau. I'm Frederica Freyberg. Tonight on "Here and Now," Wisconsin is looking at nearly a billion dollar surplus by mid-2015. The $911 million bonus is a product of $893 million more than expected in tax revenue, as well as lower than predicted state agency spending. Now, this sets the stage for Governor Walker's State of the State Address scheduled for next week, a speech he says he'll use to outline a plan for tax breaks in Wisconsin. We'll be there with live coverage of the address on Wednesday, January 22, at 7:00 p.m.  We'll also have a minority response from assembly minority leader, Representative Peter Barca. Later tonight, more on the surplus from members of the legislative joint finance committee. And this news, Democratic state senator Kathleen Vinehout announced today she will not run for governor due to injuries she suffered in an early December car crash.

Our first guest tonight, Republican representative John Nygren, is co-chair of joint finance. He's front and center when it comes to plans for the surplus money, and his plate was already pretty full this week.  

John Nygren:

The CDC has said this is now the number one accidental killer in our country. And it's really hitting home with our youth.

Frederica Freyberg:

Representative John Nygren saw his HOPE agenda, or Heroin Opiate Prevention and Education, pass its first step in the assembly Tuesday. It was a rare piece of bipartisan accord at the state capitol with passage of legislation to help save the lives of people who overdose on heroin. In all four heroin related bills authored by Marinette Republican Nygren. They passed unanimously. The bills would allow all emergency responders to give Narcan, a drug that immediately reverses heroin overdoses and provide immunity for people who call 911 in the event of an overdose. Two other bills would require ID to get prescription narcotics and allow municipalities to hold prescription drug collection drives. Representative Nygren has a personal stake in this legislation. His daughter has struggled with heroin addiction. He joins us now from Green Bay, and thanks very much for doing so.

John Nygren:

Happy to be here.

Frederica Freyberg:

Well, now ahead of discussing this very important topic on heroin, what is your reaction to the higher than expected revenue estimates, and what you might do with it?

John Nygren:

Well, I think it's good news for the people of Wisconsin, to be in a position where we have more money than we expected from our tax collection. Now I think, though, we have to be-- use some restraint, and understand that now is not the time to veer off course from what we've been doing. We have to-- we shouldn't look at starting new programs that are going to be burdensome in the future to our citizens. We should look at, in my opinion, giving it back to the people that are paying it in, the tax cuts that we put into the budget, the tax cuts that we passed this past fall. All of those have got us to a point where we're seeing more and more revenue even though we reduced taxes. So I think that strategy is something we should continue to follow.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right, good. And we will also continue to follow what the strategy becomes. As to your bills relating to heroin, what was your reaction to the overwhelming, the unanimous, assembly passage of them?

John Nygren:

Well, I think what that underscores, Frederica, is that this is a problem. It's not just affecting Marinette. It’d not just affecting northeast Wisconsin. It's affecting our whole state and even our country. Legislators recognize the fact that this is something that's hitting their districts just like it is mine. And I think they made a great commitment, a great first step, towards reducing the effects of heroin on our state. But it's just a beginning, and I think we're going to be talking about this, unfortunately, talking about this for some time until we can curb the tide even more.

Frederica Freyberg:

For those who may not know about your own family's now public struggle with heroin, tell us what prompted you to introduce this legislation.

John Nygren:

Well, I have a daughter, Cassie, who will be 25 on Valentine's Day. Like most kids, you know, nobody-- nobody dreams of their child becoming a heroin addict. Her situation, she's had many struggles, which she has shared publicly in the media. But nobody anticipates drug addiction being part of those struggles. But, you know, I give her a lot of credit for having the courage to allow us to use her story to try and help others. I think that's a positive thing for her, gives her something to, you know, point to as helping others. You know, in her case it started with prescription drugs, and moved on to heroin when the supply started to dry up. And I think that's pretty consistent. We're not seeing this-- you know, when I grew up in Wisconsin, heroin was a drug that was used by, you know, maybe people in dark alleys in big cities, maybe rock stars overdosed on heroin. You didn't see beautiful young children overdosing on heroin. But one of the best things that has come out of this story, and Cassie being willing to share her story, has been that parents throughout our state have begun to realize, that, yes, it is in Marinette, Wisconsin. Yes, it’s in Hudson, Wisconsin, yes, it’s in Wautoma. It's in small cities and towns throughout our state as well as the big communities. So I think that's a positive thing. But as I said, there's a lot more work to be done.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, how might two of the measures that pass, more readily available Narcan and immunity for people calling 911 in an overdose, how might that have changed what happened to your daughter?

John Nygren:

Well, Cassie-- in Cassie's situation, her mom came home. I think it was August of 2009. That just shows-- we've been dealing with this for a while. I think since 2007. We didn't step forward and automatically say when Cassie overdosed that we're going to fight this. We dealt with it privately. It’s typically a private issue that a lot of families deal with. But when I began to see how many other families were struggling with this issue it became, I guess, a call to action for us, to be able to use our story to help others. Like I said, Cassie agreed to do that. But it was August of 2009, I believe, her mom came home in the afternoon to shut the windows for an approaching storm. And as she was going in the front door, Cassie's friends were rapidly exiting at the same time. And we found her on the bathroom floor purple, needle still in her arm, struggling to breathe. She dialed 911, called me. I raced over there, held my dying daughter in my arms basically, tried to help her breathe until the first responders showed up. Now, this was in the city of Marinette. In the city of Marinette we have paramedics that serve with our hospital, and they were quickly on the scene. I believe they were on the scene even before the volunteer EMTs that we have, our rescue squad, and they were able to administer Narcan, which reversed the effects of the overdose and I saw my daughter come back to life in my arms. And because of that she's still alive and well today. Now, our volunteer EMT, the rescue squad in Marinette, they're basic level EMTs. The paramedics are advanced level EMTs. A lot of our rural areas have only basic level EMTs. Basic level, currently, are not allowed to carry Narcan or administer Narcan. Because of that, that 10, 15-minute wait in a rural area for somebody to show up could make a difference of life and death. So we worked with the Department of Health Services and other stakeholders to be able to implement this law, write this law, that can save lives, as it did my daughter. As far as the 911 Good Samaritan, I think her friends leaving that scene to escape getting into trouble is pretty consistent. We've seen young people dumped in snowbanks. We’ve seen people dropped off outside an emergency room. We see them found dead in hotel rooms by themselves, when the reality is in most cases they're with other people when they do the drug, and they're just left to die because they're afraid of getting into trouble. So once again we work with the law enforcement folks, we work with the district attorneys, to look at this as giving them a tool to help battle drugs in our state. We didn't want to see this as a hindrance. They actually came on board and supported the immunity provision as well. And I think that's a good step. Frederica, when we first started looking at this issue back in September, as we were proposing the immunity, there were about six or seven states that had 911 Good Samaritan law. Once signed into law by the governor, we will be the 15th state. So you can just see in a few months period of time this has been an effort going on in other states throughout our country, and it underscores that this is a problem not just in Wisconsin, but in our nation.

Frederica Freyberg:

After this long and difficult struggle that still persists, how is your daughter doing now?

John Nygren:

She is-- she had a parole violation back in, I believe, it was July. She left town. She tells me she left to get away from the circle of use of drugs that she was under. That's what she tells me. I take her at her word on that. And because of that, that was a violation of her parole. And so she's-- has a parole violation and a hearing to see if she should go back to prison or not. We understand there's laws in place, but I guess from our standpoint we would like to see a system that actually helps people break that cycle rather than it being a revolving door in our state prisons, where we're spending $35,000 a year for a man, $41,000 a year for a woman. In Marinette and Oconto County the recidivism rate on these drug offenses is basically 100%. So it's dollars that aren't going well-spent right now. And we're going to continue to work to find ways to reform our system that actually can save taxpayers money and deliver at the end a productive citizen who can be a taxpayer, who can raise a family and be a productive citizen in Wisconsin.

Frederica Freyberg:

John Nygren, thank you very much for talking about this and for your work on it.

John Nygren:

Thank you. Good to be with you.

Frederica Freyberg:

While the Nygren bills passed unanimously, Democratic representative Sandy Pasch spoke to the Walker administration's rejection of expanded Medicaid in Wisconsin, saying treatment for heroin addiction often begins in the primary care office and if people don't have health insurance, that kind of care will be lacking.

Sandy Pasch:

It's the primary care providers who do the early identification and the recognition and referrals. Please, please, please, I beg you, to stop letting ideology dictate what we do. And let's do what is right for all people in the state of Wisconsin. And that is making sure that everyone has access to health care. 


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