Fight against opioid abuse in Wisconsin continues | Column

Heroin

Six months ago, we asked for an escalation in our efforts in the fight against opioid abuse in Wisconsin. Hospitals, schools and community groups have joined hands with state and local governments in response to that call, and we’ve seen significant progress implementing the recommendations we put forth.

We applaud Gov. Scott Walker for signing three executive orders, one of which called a special session of the state legislature to act expeditiously on the legislation we recommended. We appreciate the committee chairs and members who reviewed the bills and all our colleagues who supported them on the floor. We’re proud of the wide bipartisan consensus around these common-sense steps.

Six months later, things are on a good track. Governor Walker traveled to Green Bay, Wausau and La Crosse Monday to sign the special session bills into law. New moneys are going out the door to support programs on the ground, and state agencies are implementing new policies to address this issue across government.

Though we’re pleased with the progress we’ve made, our efforts continue. Along with our task force colleagues, we are already hard at work assembling ideas and talking to experts on next steps. Last week, for instance, nationally recognized policy analysts from the Pew Charitable Trusts testified before our task force with ideas for policy solutions with the goal of helping those who need addiction services. Though we are absolutely confident that our past work is making a real difference, headlines in hometown newspapers across our state remind us every day that more must be done.

As we look to our next set of recommendations in tackling this complex issue, we want to focus on two areas in particular. First is our Medicaid. We know that enrollees on Medicaid are disproportionately impacted by the opioid and heroin epidemic. We also know that different states take varying approaches to a host of other opioid-related questions within their Medicaid programs, and that Medicaid’s policies can act as an incentive to expand the number of practitioners offering addiction-related services. Finally, we recognize a moment of opportunity as our federal partners at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services have invited states to submit creative ideas to combat this crisis. We want Wisconsin to be one of the first states out of the box with an innovative, comprehensive proposal, and we want Wisconsin Medicaid to serve as a model for the optimal arrangement of benefits and treatment options.

We also want to focus on preventing addictions in the first place. We invest a lot of money in treatment, and we should, because lots of our citizens have a medical issue that requires a treatment solution. But we also want to move beyond time-worn answers like “DARE” or “Just Say No” to reach deeper questions around propensity to addiction, self-reliance and self-medication, and creating cultures of accountability.  We want to have an open, honest conversation about the role that schools, colleges, faith communities, families, coaches, neighbors — all of us really — can play in developing resilient citizens.

We don’t expect prevention to ever be perfect; we recognize that we all have moments of weakness where we make bad choices. But we want to at least start asking what levers of policy we can pull to do more on the front end so we can spend less time and money on the back end in emergency rooms and jail cells.

We anticipate coming back to the citizens of Wisconsin at the end of 2017 with additional ideas on these issues and the larger project of ending opioid abuse. Until then, we invite you to partner with us — you can start by learning more and sharing your ideas through our website, www.Hope.WI.gov.

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