- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Gov. Scott Walker signed another round of bills aimed at slowing opiate abuse into law Thursday during a tour of hospitals and medical centers.

He said in a news release that the legislation should help curb addiction and overdoses by creating more guidelines on dispensing prescription opiates. He signed the bills during stops in Marinette, Wausau, Eau Claire and Oconomowoc.

Rep. John Nygren, a Marinette Republican who co-chairs the Legislature’s powerful Joint Finance Committee, wrote the eight-bill package as part of his so-called Hope Agenda, a series of reforms to fight heroin and opiate abuse. He began the initiative after watching his daughter, Cassie, struggle with heroin addiction.

Walker signed seven Nygren bills in 2014 that focused on overdoses, including measures that increased funding for treatment facilities, provided legal immunity to anyone who helps during an overdose and allowed first responders to use the overdose antidote drug Narcan. With those bills finished, Nygren announced last year that he would turn his focus toward opiate prescriptions, which can often lead to heroin.

Under the bills Walker signed Thursday:

- Clinics that use methadone to treat addiction must make annual reports to the Department of Health Services on staffing levels, relapse rates, how far patients travel to receive treatment and the number of methadone doses people carry outside the facilities to use without supervision.

- Treatment programs that use narcotics must obtain a three-year DHS certification.

- Using or delivering masking agents to defeat drug tests will be punishable by fines and jail time.

- Pain clinics must obtain DHS certification and their physicians must review a patient’s records on the state’s prescription drug monitoring database.

- Doctors must review the database before prescribing drugs that carry a substantial risk of being abused.

- The Controlled Substances Board must review the prescription drug database and submit quarterly reports on the database to the Department of Safety and Professional Standards.

- The state’s medical regulatory boards must each issue guidelines on best practices for prescribing drugs.

- Police must provide information about prescription drug-related violations, opioid-related overdoses and deaths to the prescription drug database.

A 2015 DHS report found overdose deaths involving opioid pain relievers and heroin have been on the rise since 2007. Oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone and other prescription opioids contributed to 382 of 843, or 45 percent, of drug overdose deaths in 2013, the report found. Heroin contributed to 226 of the deaths, or 27 percent.

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, a Republican, issued a statement praising Nygren for developing the bills and Walker for signing them.

“Those of us in law enforcement have been fighting the battle against prescription painkiller and heroin abuse on the front lines for years, but we cannot do it alone,” Schimel said. He added that the bills “will make a substantial difference and prevent additional parents from burying their kids.”

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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