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Substance Abuse Pilot Program Hopes to Fill Gaps in Treatment Access

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Wisconsin has been grappling with the opioid crisis for years now.

The state saw a huge spike in opioid overdoses when the pandemic first started.

Overdoses have fluctuated over the last year and a half but remain higher than pre-pandemic times.

Health officials has seen a rise in all types of substance abuse, not just opioids.

Stress, isolation, and easy access to drugs and alcohol can all lead to substance abuse problems.

“There was increased alcohol purchased. Certainly, we saw increase drug availability. There never seemed to be an interruption in the drug delivery system, I can tell you that,” said Sheila Weix is the director of substance abuse services for the Family Health Center part of Marshfield Clinic Health System.

She also points to the lack of in-person treatments options during the early part of the pandemic as well as lack of connection to friends, family and work as causes of the increase in substance abuse seen in the last year.

“It’s a matter of if a person’s angry, hungry, lonely or tired, this is again just from the recovery work over many years, those are all high-risk times. Many of us, during many times during the pandemic experienced all of those,” said Weix.

Wiex said she’s seen things get better in the last couple of months as in-person treatment options return.

She’s hoping a new pilot program through the state Department of Health Services will help even more people and some of the most vulnerable.

The Family Health Center’s Minocqua Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center will act as a hub for substance abuse treatment for our region.

It’s for treating people eligible for BadgerCare Plus and Medicaid members who have substance abuse disorders and at least one other health condition.

“They’re in a bit of different spot than somebody who has perhaps the same diagnosis but is facing multiple other barriers,” said Weix.

Through the hub and spoke model, the Family Health Center will provide addictive and mental health treatment, primary care, and other support for recovery.

With it being a pilot program right now, the center is working with Forest, Iron, Oneida, Price, and Vilas Counties as well as the three tribal communities within those counties.

“This particular approach will make it much easier coordinate care across systems because we’ll be working to develop those relationships.”

The Family Health Center already has experience working with partners in those communities through the HOPE Consortium.

There’s a couple difference between the HOPE and this pilot program.

HOPE Services are limited to opioid and methamphetamine services. The pilot program also treats alcohol abuse.

HOPE is also dependent on grant funding.

“Organizations that are providing care coordination, peer support services, and the other six core services under this benefit will be able to be reimbursed for it under Medicaid. That’s a huge difference as far as when one looks at sustainability,” said Weix.

The pilot program is expected to last at least two and a half years.

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