Nine bills that address opioid abuse passed in the Wisconsin Senate on May 2 and went on to Gov. Scott Walker to be signed into law. The bills provide money and other resources to law enforcement, medical facilities, schools and agencies.
Some of the bills focus on rehabilitation over punishment. There will be $2 million available to counties so that people with drug or alcohol offenses can be treated rather than sent to jail. Two to three treatment programs will be created in high-need areas. Hospitals will receive $63,000 annually to train physicians in treating addictions while another program will connect rural physicians to opportunities for training on treating addiction. The University of Wisconsin will create a charter program for high school students who are recovering from addiction.
Another $400,000 will be used to train staff in schools to screen for addiction while $420,000 annually will go to creating four new special agent positions at the Department of Justice. Drugs that contain the opiate codeine will require a prescription. Finally, school staff, volunteers, and residence hall directors on technical college and the University of Wisconsin campuses who are trained on how to use drugs such as Narcan in the event of an opioid overdose will be immune from lawsuits if they call 911 as quickly as they can after administering the drug.
Despite the passage of these bills, people should not assume that if they are facing drug charges, the focus of the prosecution will be treatment instead of punishment. Penalties for even first-time drug charges may be serious, and people may want to work with an attorney on their defense. An attorney may look at the circumstances around the defendant being taken into custody and whether the process of gathering the evidence was legal as well as whether a plea bargain might be an option.