Daughter's Heroin Habit Moves Wisconsin Lawmaker To Sponsor Good Samaritan Law

10/22/2013 06:17 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
  • Radley Balko Senior Writer and Investigative Reporter, The Huffington Post

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has the story of Wisconsin Republican state Rep. John Nygren, who is sponsoring a series of bills aimed at addressing and minimizing the damage from heroin overdoses. Two of the policies he's pushing are somewhat controversial. The first would offer limited immunity for people who call 911 or bring overdose patients to an emergency room. The sensible theory behind the policy is that people are reluctant to report overdoses if doing so could subject them to criminal charges. The other would expand those with access to Narcan, a medication that reverses the effects of an overdose.

Nygren is sponsoring these laws after confronting his daughter's heroin habit, and her near fatal overdose in 2009. Unfortunately, that sort of brush with the drug war's collateral damage is sometimes what it takes to make politicians see the light. But good on Nygen for coming around.

The Good Samaritan policy is understandably controversial, although it's certainly a sound approach. You're sacrificing a possible low-level drug prosecution in order to save a life. You'd think that even an ardent drug warrior would find that to be a satisfactory trade.

Or perhaps not. Some drug policies over the years have reflected more of a "better dead than high" approach to addiction. Consider the Narcan policy. If there's a medication out there that can prevent heroin overdose deaths, you'd think policymakers would want it distributed far and wide. But that hasn't been the case. There's a history here in which both the federal government and state governments have tried to restrict Narcan's availability. Consider this quote from Dr. Bertha Madras, deputy director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy during the George W. Bush administration.

"Sometimes having an overdose, being in an emergency room, having that contact with a health care professional is enough to make a person snap into the reality of the situation and snap into having someone give them services."

In other words, withholding lifesaving medication from overdose patients may be just what addicts need to kick the habit for good. Yes, it could also kill them. But at least at that point, they'll no longer be getting high.

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