With millions in settlement dollars, Wis. health officials announce plan against opioid epidemic

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – This year, the Department of Health Services expects to receive nearly $31 million for the task of fighting Wisconsin’s opioid epidemic.

The funds are the result of a solution, as part of National Prescription Opiate Litigation. About $6 million arrived as the first payment in late July, DHS announced.

DHS Secretary-designate Karen Timberlake said Monday plan for the distribution of funds has been submitted to the Joint Finance Committee of the State Legislature.

Divided into three phases, the plan would primarily address immediate needs, increase access to services around the state, and invest in long-term projects. Among the proposed numbers, $3 million would increase the statewide availability of Narcan, the drug used to reverse opioid overdoses.

Even more money is set aside for capital projects to expand prevention, treatment and recovery services.

“The longer we delay, the more we endanger those who would benefit most from these life-saving investments,” Timberlake said.

Attorney General Josh Kaul (D-Wisconsin) spoke alongside health officials on Monday.

“These funds have an opportunity to transform the response to the opioid epidemic and, ultimately, turn the tide in this fight,” he said. “However, it is critical that those funds go to our communities as soon as possible because communities and families across the state of Wisconsin continue to suffer the impacts of substance use disorder and opioid overdoses.”

The Department of Justice has worked to “hold opioid companies accountable for their role in this epidemic,” according to Kaul.

Wisconsin’s opioid crisis began in the late 1990s, Timberlake said, resulting in an almost 900 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths from 1999 to 2018.

According to DHS data comparing demographic groups in 2020, blacks in Wisconsin had the highest rate of all opioid deaths.

“We don’t want to see our black men or women again, dying from this when they shouldn’t,” said Carola Gaines, co-chair of the African American Opioid Coalition. “If they really want to change the narrative and really want to transform the issues, then hopefully some of that funding will go into harm reduction, shelter and recovery treatment.”

In the coming years, Wisconsin will receive more than $400 million in total settlement funds. 30 percent of the total funds will remain at the state level, while 70 percent will go to the local government.

Copyright 2022 WMTV. All rights reserved.

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