© 2024 WXPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Wisconsin DHS lays out plan for $36 million opioid settlement, still needs JFC approval

A Narcan vending machine at the Forest County Potawatomi Health and Wellness building in Crandon.
Katie Thoresen
A Narcan vending machine at the Forest County Potawatomi Health and Wellness building in Crandon.

Between 2018 and 2022, nearly 90 people between Vilas, Forest, and Oneida counties died of opioid overdoses. 160 people in those same counties over those years need hospitalization because of overdoses, according to Wisconsin Department of Health Services data.

DHS Secretary Designee Kristen Johnson says there are two key components to the plan to spend Wisconsin $36 million fund from a major opioid settlement.

One is to invest in local efforts that have shown success. The second is to prevent opioid overdoes through educating young people.

“We cannot save the 1,464 people we lost to opioid overdoses in 2022 but we can honor them and their loved ones by focusing our efforts to prevent more heartbreak,” said Johnson.

Johnson says the state was making progress in fighting the opioid epidemic prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, butthe pandemic exacerbated many of the root issues.

“We were grappling with mental health challenges, people were isolated. I mean, there's a whole host of issues we can discuss,” said Johnson. “But again, we're really trying to target and focus on the things that we know are effective, that are evidence based that communities have told us are important to them, and that are working and really hopeful to sustain the work that's been initiated over the course of the last few years.”

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid often added to drugs, has contributed to many of the opioid-related deaths in state since the pandemic.

It’s one of the reasons why the Wisconsin Department of Health Services wants more than $4 million of the state’s $36 million opioid settlement funds to go towards fentanyl test strips and Naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an overdose.

“The pandemic and then the rise in the prevalence of fentanyl has really changed the circumstances that we're facing,” said Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul. “Fentanyl has been driving the overdose deaths that we are seeing. The kind of harm reduction measures we're talking about, like getting Narcan in the hands of first responders, has been critical to stop this from becoming even worse. These investments will help with that.”

While those are helpful tools to save the lives of people using opioids, Kaul says what he’s heard from a lot of people is the need to invest in preventing drug use and rehabilitation services.

More than $15 million would go towards things like community education, family support and resource centers, and peer support in opioid treatment programs.

“We've heard about, if not every roundtable that we participated in, in virtually every roundtable with folks in the public health communities. They're committed to fighting this epidemic as it stands. But they want to stop using Narcan and start getting in a position where instead of saving folks who have overdosed, we're preventing people from developing substance use disorder in the first place,” said Kaul.

The plan also calls for $6 million of the settlement to go to Wisconsin’s Tribal Nations.

The plan needs to be approved by the legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
Up North Updates
* indicates required
Related Content