The Fight Against Opioid Abuse in Wisconsin

Opioid and heroin abuse are growing matters of concern across the United States, particularly in the state of Wisconsin. Data analysis has revealed an expansion of prescription and non-prescription opioid-related drug abuse; and the devastating results on Wisconsin families, correctional systems, law enforcement, healthcare providers, first responders, and others is astounding.

In response to the alarming rate at which opioid abuse had metastasized, Representative John Nygren first took action in September 2013 when he introduced seven bills that laid the foundation for his Heroin Opiate Prevention and Education (H.O.P.E.) Agenda. H.O.P.E. received unanimous bipartisan support, and ten additional bills targeting prescription opiates were added to the H.O.P.E. Agenda in 2015 and 2016. In September 2016, Governor Walker began assembling an Opioid Abuse Task Force, co-chaired by Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and Representative John Nygren. The other eighteen members of the Task Force were announced on October 25, 2016, and the first task force meeting was held three days later on October 28, 2016.

Just over two months later, on January 5, 2017, Governor Scott Walker’s Opioid Abuse Task Force issued a report that communicated the alarming figures associated with opioid-related abuse and the immediacy of taking action to reverse the current trends. According to the report, from 2003 to 2014, opioid-related fatalities more than tripled. Although extensive research on the causes of the increase is limited, analysts have concluded that the rise in fatalities may be due to any combination of the following: the rise in use and abuse of pain killers with opioids, lowered prices and readily-distributed heroin, new developments in heroin abuse demographics, and reduced need for heroin injections due to a rise in the prevalence of pure heroin. In addition, more deaths have occurred as a result of drug overdose than from motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer, colon cancer, suicide, firearms, HIV, or influenza.

The report included the bills presented through the H.O.P.E. Agenda as well as recommendations to the Governor from the Opioid Abuse Task Force. The recommendations were divided into three categories including Legislation and Statutes, Funding and Programs, and Executive Actions.

In response to the recommendations made in the report, Governor Walker took immediate action and signed three executive orders. The orders contained the following directives:

  • Executive Order #228 directed state agencies to take added action to combat opioid addiction and abuse based on the recommendations made by Lieutenant Governor Kleefisch and Representative Nygren of the Opioid Abuse Task Force.
  • Executive Order #229 directed the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to apply for funding from the federal government made available through the 21st Century Cures Act. The Act makes up to $7,636,938 available annually for two years through the State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis Grant for opioid crisis response programs.
  • Executive Order #230 called a session of the Wisconsin State Legislature to assemble at 11:00 a.m. on January 5, 2017, to discuss the following legislation:
    • LRB-1026, relating to opioid antagonist administration in schools
    • LRB-1327, relating to treatment and diversion programs and providing funding
    • LRB-1323, relating to limited immunity for persons who receive first responder care after experiencing a drug overdose
    • LRB-1325, relating to requirements for prescriptions for certain Schedule V controlled substances
    • LRB-1328, relating to the civil commitment of persons experiencing substance abuse addiction
    • LRB-0639, relating to the University of Wisconsin System chartering a recovery school
    • Legislation relating to the rural hospital graduate medical training program and $63,000 in each year of the 2017-2019 biennium for additional fellowships
    • Legislation relating to $1,000,000 in each year of the 2017-2019 biennium for grants to support new medically assisted treatment centers
    • Legislation relating to $500,000 in each year of the 2017-2019 biennium for a consultation service for medical professionals to access addiction medicine specialists
    • Legislation relating to $420,000 in each year of the 2017-2019 biennium for four additional criminal investigation agents at the Wisconsin Department of Justice focused on drug interdiction and trafficking
    • Legislation relating to $100,000 in each year of the 2017-2019 biennium to expand the Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) training program offered by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

On January 5, 2017, in a weekly radio address, Governor Walker stated: “The orders I signed today are another step in the right direction, and build upon our previous efforts including the H.O.P.E., or Heroin Opiate Prevention and Education legislation we signed into law late last spring . . . Chances are we all know someone who has been personally affected by a drug overdose. Together, we will work to save lives and eliminate this public health crisis.”

Governor Scott Walker, the Opioid Abuse Task Force, Wisconsin agencies, and other individuals are dedicated to fighting against opioid abuse in Wisconsin one step at a time until the problem is resolved.

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