A series of bills introduced to fight drug abuse in Wisconsin, specifically heroin, are well on their way to becoming law.
On Thursday, Assembly committees unanimously approved four of those bills. One of the proposals would allow all trained first responders, including police officers and firefighters, to administer Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of a heroin or opiate overdose. Under current law, only licensed paramedics can administer the drug.
Mike Huber, a critical-care paramedic with Tri-State Ambulance in La Crosse, said the new legislation would allow the patient to receive Narcan much faster.
“The sooner we can reverse the effects of narcotics, the better,” said Huber.
Huber has been a paramedic for three years and has administered Narcan quiet often. In 2013, Tri-State Ambulance paramedics administered 190 doses of Narcan for 133 patients, sometimes giving a single patient a couple of doses. About 55 percent of the time, the patient’s condition improved.
State Rep. Jill Billings says the Heroin Task Force in La Crosse sent a letter in support of this bill.
“This is something that first responders, firefighters and emergency responders have asked for. It’s something they have sought out,” said Billings. “I look at the ability to use Narcan as another tool in the tool box of first responders who end up in a situation where someone is overdosing.”
Plus, Huber said it makes sense because they are usually on the scene right away.
“Often times they are first on scene. They can assess the patient’s airway and breathing status and once they recognize it is an opiate overdose, they can administer Narcan,” said Huber.
“It can provide critical minutes to get a person to an emergency room, to get them into a hospital where they can be treated by doctors,” said Keith Lease, co-chair of the La Crosse Heroin Task Force.
Lease said it is not a cure for an overdose.
“It is not a miracle drug that when you administer it the person is free and clear,” said Lease.
However, it can stabilize the patient enough until the paramedics arrive.
“We will continue to assess the patient's breathing status and if it needs, we will start an IV and administer more Narcan,” said Huber.
“It basically saves lives, and that is the bottom line,” said Lease.
The three of the other bills approved on Thursday would allow immunity from prosecution for those who call 911 for a drug overdose, allow cities to run medication drop-off drives and require identification to get some prescription medicine.
On Tuesday, the full Assembly will vote on the bills.
Billings said strong bipartisan support behind the bills could mean they will become law as early as this spring.