April 25, 2014
In early April Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin signed a series of laws with the goal of combating the rising use of heroin and other opiate drugs in the state. The number of heroin-related deaths in Milwaukee County alone is up 29% from last year, and is the highest number of deaths ever recorded. The problem is not just limited to Milwaukee County, however–the number of heroin cases sent to the state crime laboratory is up across the entire state.
GOOD SAMARITAN IMMUNITY
One of the more controversial of these laws is 2013 Act 194, which provides immunity for a person who brings another person to an emergency room, hospital, fire station or other health care facility in the belief that the person is suffering from an overdose or adverse reaction to any controlled substance or analog. The person aiding may not be prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance under the circumstances that lead him or her to seek emergency assistance. While the Act does not provide immunity for drug dealers or other criminals, law enforcement officials are concerned that the Act may make it more difficult to investigate and prosecute drug possession offenses.
IMMUNITY FOR ADMINISTERING NALOXENE
2013 Act 194 also grants immunity for administering naloxene to another person in the good faith belief that person was suffering from an overdose and the administration was necessary to save that person’s life. Naloxene is a prescription drug (itself a controlled substance) that can counteract the effects of an opiate overdose.
NALOXENE FOR FIRST RESPONDERS
A related law is 2013 Act 200, which allows certified first-responders to both carry and administer naloxene to individuals believed to be suffering from an opiate overdose. Prior to the passage of Act 200, only certain responders could carry and administer naloxene—the Act now allows more certified responders to carry the drug and thus makes it more widely available for life-saving purposes.
TIGHTER CONTROLS ON RX
Another law, 2013 Act 199, tightens restrictions on the dispensation of prescription drugs that have a high potential for abuse. Under the law, in addition to having a valid prescription, such a drug may not be dispensed unless the person picking it up shows his or her drivers’ license or other acceptable form of identification.
Other laws signed allow communities to create programs for the disposal of prescription drugs and controlled substances, provide funding for treatment programs in rural areas, and allow for short-term sanctions for violations of parole conditions. Whether these laws help curb the number of opiate-related deaths and drug crimes remains to be seen, but in the meantime, the Attorney Editors at Thomson Reuters will be publishing judicial interpretations, annotative material, and any amendments to these laws as they occur.