GREEN BAY, Wis. – Two Wisconsin political figures were swept up Wednesday in apparent drug overdose cases in the latest examples of how drug addiction plagues the state despite a myriad of legislative efforts to curb it.
In one case, Cassandra Nygren, the 28-year-old daughter of Republican state Rep. John Nygren, was booked into the Brown County jail early Wednesday on suspicion of first-degree reckless homicide/deliver drugs and manufacture/delivery of heroin, among other potential charges. She has not yet been formally charged.
Separately, word surfaced that authorities searched former state Democratic Party Executive Director Jason Sidener's Fitchburg home after a woman died from a drug overdose. A search warrant filed this week said Sidener told police he woke up Sept. 12 to find a 30-year-old woman in his house "breathing really weird." He took her to the hospital, suspecting heroin use, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
"Stories today are another reminder that addiction crisis knows no boundaries," Republican Gov. Scott Walker tweeted. "Prayers for all in the fight."
Brown County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Todd Delain told USA Today Network-Wisconsin that Cassandra Nygren and a 33-year-old man were arrested in a recent drug death. Delain would not say who overdosed.
Cassandra Nygren's arrest is the latest chapter in her long battle with drugs. She spent two years prison after a near-fatal overdose. She was released in 2014, becoming an advocate for sobriety, but was convicted again in 2015 of drug possession and admitted to drug court, an alternative program aimed at helping participants fight addiction.
Nygren's struggles spurred her father to offer multiple bills aimed at curbing opioid addiction over the years. Walker has signed nearly 30 bills sponsored by Rep. Nygren since 2013 dealing with opioids, but they've had little effect so far.
According to state data, 1,524 people died of opioid-related overdoses between 2013 and 2015, compared with 1,381 people over the previous three-year period. The data show 622 people died in 2014 and 614 in 2015, the two highest annual death totals since 2003. Last year, 837 people died of opioid overdoses. An additional 204 people died from overdosing on other drugs.
John Nygren said in a statement that his daughter's arrest is another example of "the disastrous and destructive consequences" of addiction.
"Cassie has publicly struggled with addiction and recovery for several years. This is a strong reminder of how fragile the road to recovery is. We will continue to support and pray for her recovery," the lawmaker said in a statement.
Rep. Nygren also extended condolences for the loss of life. "There are no words that we as a family can offer to give any real comfort for this tragic loss," he said.
Sidener, the former Democratic Party leader, told police he picked up Monique Allen at a motel the night of Sept. 11 and brought her home, according to the search warrant affidavit. They used marijuana and she was fine when he fell asleep, he said. He woke up at 5 a.m. and her body "was like a pile of mush."
Sidener said in text messages to Allen sent between Sept. 9 and Sept. 11 that he was doing the "hard stuff," which police said meant heroin or cocaine. Allen said it would be fun to do that with him.
Sidener hasn't been arrested or charged, but his home and vehicle were searched as part of a death investigation. An inventory shows authorities found crack cocaine, needles and other drug paraphernalia. Sidner's attorney didn't immediately return messages from The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Sidener became executive director of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin in December, but court documents show he was recently fired for performance issues.
Party spokeswoman Melanie Conklin said in an email that Sidener took medical and family leave in August. He returned to work briefly in September before leaving, saying that the "road to recovery would be longer than expected." She said she could not comment further about personnel matters.