(The Center Square) – Lawmakers heard emotional testimony Friday during a public hearing for a bill that seeks to address the fentanyl crisis.
Calling it a plague on communities, sponsor State Rep Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale says the fentanyl crisis has caused a state of emergency and her proposed legislation, House Bill 2396, could be part of the solution.
It is named after Ivan Howtopat, who was 24 when he hung himself in a Klickitat County jail cell last spring as he suffered fentanyl withdrawals.
Mosbrucker told The Center Square, “He got tied up with fentanyl and ended up taking his life, and his family is now dedicated to saving others from the suffering they’ve endured.”
“We have babies dying from unintentional overdose, this is an emergency.”
Mosbrucker decided to do a fentanyl tour through her district starting with her home town of Goldendale.
“We had more than 100 people come in and tell heart breaking stories, how they’ve lost love ones or are addicted themselves,” she said. “I did a second town hall in Toppenish and listened to a couple hundred people explain how fentanyl had destroyed their lives or the lives of loved ones.
“The stories were so sad but there were four things that resonated through all of those tours and those became a bill.”
The legislation would require hospitals to test for fentanyl because smaller hospitals aren’t testing for it due to costs.
“So we could do a grant for that,” Mosbrucker said.
“It would also include education about how highly addictive fentanyl is,” recalling how Ivan’s mom said he kept telling her: “I wish I had known how addictive this was.”
Ivan’s mom Melissa Howtopat traveled with more than a dozen family members from Yakima to Olympia to testify in support of the bill Friday in the House Healthcare and Wellness Committee.
“We always taught our children never do drugs, and I never imagined that he would become addicted to drugs,” Melissa Howtopat said. She believes her son probably became addicted after being on pain pills following a dog attack that required surgery.
“He never wanted to be addicted to drugs and several times we tried to get him into treatment, but by the time there was a spot for him, it was too late and he didn’t want to go.”
According to a recently filed claim from the Howtopat family, Ivan allegedly asked his cell mate to break his arm so he’d be taken to the hospital.
The $20 million claim blames the Klickitat County sheriff and jail staff for not testing Ivan for drugs when he was booked.
“My son was a good person and fentanyl took his life. He’d be here today if it weren’t for that drug. This is an epidemic and we’re losing a whole generation of people.”
Mosbrucker’s bill would also address fentanyl exposure in vehicles.
“Say a person gets their car stolen and when it’s returned to the owner, that person doesn’t know there is fentanyl residue in the car,” she said. “Before we put a baby in a car seat in that car, we should test.”
The last part of the measure concerns treatment access right out of jail.
Mosbrucker told the committee, “On one of my tours, I met a man who had just gotten out of prison, and he said, ‘Gina you’re doing it all wrong.’” The man told her that asking an addict on the street if they want jail or treatment, they will always choose jail because, “When they get out in a few days the dealer is waiting.”
“He said the drug is in charge.”
Her bill would require an offer of treatment when someone is released, at a time when they are sober.
As Ivan’s mom Melissa closed her testimony she told lawmakers through tears, “Can you please, just please help us?”