Sen. Johnson, Baldwin hear stories, suggestions on heroin addict - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Sen. Johnson, Baldwin hear stories, suggestions on heroin addiction at Friday hearing

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PEWAUKEE (WKOW) -- Emotional testimony on the nation's heroin epidemic highlighted a U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing at Waukesha County Technical College Friday.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) chairs the committee and presided over the hearing along with Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), a fellow committee member.
    
A huge crowd listened to law enforcement members, medical experts and recovered heroin addicts and their families talk about their experiences with the problem.

"I was an angry, violent monster. I was never in a good mood. I didn't laugh anymore. I didn't know what smiling was," testified Tyler Lybert, a recovered heroin addict.

While Lybert overcame his addiction, Lauri Badura's son wasn't so lucky.

"It is my mission to make sure Archie's life story will continue to serve as an agent of change and transformation," said Badura.

The Senators listened to stories and suggestions on what would help fight the epidemic.

Both have offered bills the experts believe would help.

Sen. Johnson recently introduced a bill that would prohibit patient pain management surveys from being used to factor Medicare reimbursement payments to hospitals.

Currently. the better a patient claims to feel on a survey, the more the hospital gets paid.

Senator Johnson feels that puts pressure on doctors to over-prescribe opiate painkillers.

Dr. Timothy Westlake, chair of the Controlled Substance Committee for the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board, agrees.

"Perhaps, as far as what you could do for regulation of prescribers, it's the single most important piece of federal legislative reform that you could do," Dr. Westlake told Sen. Johnson.

Senator Baldwin recently introduced the Heroin Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Reduction Act, which seeks to improve access to opioid-reversing drugs like Naloxone and expand access to medication-assisted treatments.

In addition to stopping people's path to heroin, Sen. Johnson wants to close heroin's path to Wisconsin.

"We only interdict between 5 and 10 percent of the illegal drugs coming through the southern border," said Sen. Johnson, calling for greater patrols and enforcement on the Mexican border.

Sen. Johnson said the free flow of heroin over that border has led to a huge supply, dropping the price of the drug from from $3,260 per gram in 1981 to just $100 per gram today.

The Senate did take recent action on the heroin epidemic, passing the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act.

That would provide federal grant money to state and local governments for opiate treatment, prevention and education efforts.

It must still get through the House of Representatives.

Sen. Johnson and Sen. Baldwin want more solutions like that to come out of Friday's hearing.
    
"The federal government is a partner, one partner of many that need to come together to solve this issue," said Sen. Baldwin.

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