- Associated Press - Monday, October 3, 2016

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sept. 29

Review state speed limit

Before the state enacted the 70 mph speed limit on interstate highways in 2015, we suggested that officials monitor the results and provide a review within a year. In light of a Journal Sentinel article last week that showed fatalities, injuries and accidents spiked in the wake of the increase, we think that review is even more urgent.

At the time, we supported the hike in the speed limit, arguing that it would bring Wisconsin in line with neighboring states and that “raising the posted limit by 5 mph probably won’t make much difference one way or the other.”

But the figures show that assessment may have been too optimistic. In Saturday’s article, reporter Meg Jones noted that, “In the 12 months following Wisconsin’s switch to 70 mph on interstate highways starting in June 2015, fatalities rose 37 percent on the interstate, injuries increased by 11 percent and the total number of accidents rose 12 percent. In that time, 10 more people died, 208 more were injured and 1,057 more accidents were reported than the previous 12 months on interstate roads.”

Meanwhile on state highways in Wisconsin where the speed limit for the most part remained the same, “fatalities dropped by just under 2 percent, accidents with injuries declined by 0.3 percent and all accidents dipped 2 percent.”

That’s not conclusive evidence. There are lots of reasons for accidents, and speed is only one factor. Drunken driving is still a major issue in Wisconsin, and distracted driving - texting, calling, checking emails - has become a significant factor in causing accidents. Drivers are awfully reluctant to give up their phones even when they’re behind the wheel.

In addition, as the economy rebounds and gas prices remain low, the number of miles driven has gone up while, according to census figures, the number of 16-year-olds eligible for driver’s licenses has increased while older drivers are staying on the road longer, Jones reported.

And studies on the topic have offered mixed results: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that a new study by the group “shows that increases in speed limits over two decades have cost 33,000 lives in the U.S. In 2013 alone, the increases resulted in 1,900 additional deaths, essentially canceling out the number of lives saved by frontal air bags that year.” But a June 2013 Governing magazine article reported that Purdue University researchers found the likelihood of fatalities and serious injuries didn’t increase when Indiana raised its interstate speed limit from 65 mph to 70 mph in 2005.

But speed adds a killing factor: “There’s no doubt speed kills. The faster you go the more likely you’ll be killed,” Juneau County Sheriff Brent Oleson, president of the Badger Sheriff’s Association, told Jones. “75 mph compared to 55 mph, it’s almost a third less reaction time and the average speed on the interstate is probably 75.”

And Nick Jarmusz of AAA Wisconsin told Jones that traveling 5 mph faster means much less time to respond to changes in traffic, such as backups. When crashes occur, the physics of a body traveling at a higher speed crashing into another object frequently results in serious injury or death.

Maybe the spike in fatalities, injuries and accidents was a one-year anomaly. Maybe it’s due to other factors such as more distracted and impaired driving. But if speed is a factor, citizens deserve to know that and state officials should provide them with that answer as best they can through a thorough study.

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USA Today Network-Wisconsin, Sept. 30

Rape victims deserve fast work on tests

“We owe it to those who had the courage to report a sexual assault.”

That’s what Attorney General Brad Schimel said last year when he announced the state was offered $2 million to test backlogged rape kits.

In 2014, there were more than 6,000 untested rape kits sitting on shelves in Wisconsin. Guess how many from that backlog have been tested in the year-plus since the grant was announced?

Zero.

There has been no progress figuring out why Wisconsin has thousands of untested kits even though there is money available to solve that problem.

The state Department of Justice won’t say who is to blame for the delay - whether it’s their own department or police agencies around the state that store the kits - but we do know that testing the rape kits is obviously not a priority. If it was, law enforcement officials in our state would already have acted with urgency.

The thousands of untested rape kits, which include DNA samples collected in invasive tests after someone says they have been assaulted, mean that the kits’ crime-solving value is unknown.

Are there serial rapists that could be brought to justice once a pattern is detected in the tests? Do some cases sitting on shelves have a statute of limitations deadline approaching? Is there a common reason why so many kits go untested and can the state fix that problem?

We just don’t know. Our law enforcement agencies have dragged their feet.

Agencies big and small have to make decisions on how to allocate their limited resources. The decision they’re projecting to the public in this case is that clearing out untested rape kits is not a priority.

It’s time for the Department of Justice to make it public which law enforcement agencies are cooperating and which ones are not. We want to know which of our departments take sexual assault cases seriously.

We owe it to those who had the courage to speak up.

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Kenosha News, Sept. 29

Drug overdoses at crisis stage

Last week the governor appointed a task force to combat abuse of opium-based drugs. The state Department of Health Services on Tuesday issued a public health advisory about opioid addiction.

They are talking about the illegal street drug heroin and also legal prescription painkillers such as oxycodone.

Opioid Drug overdoses were responsible for 600 deaths across the state in 2015. There were 44 drug overdose deaths in Kenosha County.

According to local officials, at least 1,500 emergency room admissions were for drug overdoses. There might have been more deaths, but local emergency medical personnel have been trained in the administration of naxolone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an overdose.

The number of deaths and emergency room visits should be a warning to everyone about the dangers of addictive drugs and what can be done to prevent addiction and overdoses.

One step is proper disposal of unused painkilling medication. Often patients are given prescriptions for painkillers after routine procedures, such as a tooth extraction. The patient may not need the entire prescription, and it may be tempting to save them for some future need. That’s a mistake. Those pills are hazards.

Legal prescription drugs are the route to drug addiction for many people. That’s why many of the overdose victims are such unlikely candidates for drug addiction.

In some cases patients become addicted to prescription painkillers, and when they can no longer get prescriptions for them, they turn to substitutes. These can include street drugs, such as heroin, which is much more readily available than many people realize. Street drugs vary in potency, making accidental overdoses a serious possibility.

Opioid addiction should be considered a crisis, Department of Health Services Secretary Linda Seemeyer said Tuesday. She said it is destroying lives and families across the state.

Some helpful steps have already been taken to make this crisis less deadly.

Walgreens has placed medication disposal kiosks in 18 stores around the state, including the store in Kenosha. A medication disposal box is also in the lobby of the Public Safety Building. We urge people to use those to dispose of unused medications of any kind, not just painkillers.

Walgreens has also made naxolone, the drug that counteracts the effects of an opioid overdose, available without an individual prescription. That could help families be better prepared to cope with an accidental overdose.

More needs to be done. The governor’s task force is expected to recommend what should be done next. Let’s hope this group acts with a sense of urgency. People are dying.

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