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Legislator introduces more heroin bills (UPDATE)

A Republican assemblyman is working on several more bills designed to combat heroin and drug abuse.

Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, is proposing that an additional $3 million be put into paying for Treatment Alternatives and Diversion programs during the 2013-15 biennial budget cycle. Currently, $1.5 million is allocated for grants to pay for these programs, which are run by circuit courts and seek to give defendants an alternative to incarceration and a chance at rehabilitation.

The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills. Both versions were introduced last week.

Jenny Malcore, Nygren’s communications director and policy advisor, said the $3 million is aimed at paying for 23 projects that could not be paid for with the $1.5 million allocation. Only 13 programs were covered by that money, she said.

Nygren’s daughter has struggled with heroin and nearly died of an overdose. Nygren had a package of bills passed by the Assembly earlier this month, including one that would give immunity from lower-level drug offenses if someone calls 911 to report an overdose.

TAD programs are administered by the Office of Justice Assistance – which is a part of the Department of Justice – and the state departments of Health and Family Services and Corrections.

If passed, the bill also would require counties who receive a TAD grant to submit performance data to the DOJ, and for the justice department to evaluate a program’s report on a yearly basis. It also would require the DOJ to present a cost-benefit analysis of the TAD grant program to the Legislature every five years.

An email attributed to Dana Brueck, spokeswoman for Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, stated that Van Hollen supports additional money for TAD programs.

“We are, however, concerned,” the email states, “that there is not sufficient administrative and evaluation support to run the program, assist local grantees and further evaluate the program … .”

Earlier this month, the Assembly passed two Nygren-authored bills that would allow all emergency responders to administer Narcan, a drug that counteracts heroin overdoses, as well as to allow municipal prescription drug collection drives and require identification to obtain prescription drugs containing narcotics.

Those bills now await Senate action.

Two other bills, for which Nygren is seeking co-sponsors, would require the state Department of Health Services to create regional opiate treatment centers in underserved areas and create a system of graduated sanctions for people who violate the conditions of their release in hopes of getting addicts treatment faster.

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

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