Heroin, opioid epidemic drives need for addiction specialists

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) For families with loved ones in need of treatment for drug addiction, help could be on the way.

Doctors and lawmakers are pushing to fill a statewide void of trained addiction specialists.

"We were not prepared for this tidal wave of an epidemic at all, as a profession, as a society, and it may seem like we're scrambling to catch up. We are," says Dr. Ashok Rai, President and CEO of Prevea Health.

Dr. Rai is tuned in to Wisconsin's heroin and opioid epidemic.

As a health care provider, he sees those addicts finally reach a point where they want help, but it's not always there.

"Of our physicians that are trained in addiction medicine, they are full. And the line is very long, and we feel bad," says Rai. "What this grant does is it increases the number of physicians that can supply this needed care."

One of 11 opioid-related bills being debated during the legislature's special session would fund a physician fellowship program allowing more doctors to be trained to treat addiction and mental health.

"It requires special training, and it's hard to find funding for that," says Rai.

"Just plain education of addictionologists and psychiatry in our state. It's not just Wisconsin. There's a shortage everywhere, so we need to, like I said, incentivize people to go into those specialties," says Marinette Rep. John Nygren.

He's pushing for this pilot program, seeing a need for more treatment providers, especially in rural communities.

The bill starts small, only funding a few doctors, but Nygren is optimistic this is only the beginning.

"Often times we start small, and as we find things that work, we can definitely invest more in the future," says Nygren.

"It really is about addressing all the reasons why they became addicted. It's the psycho-social aspect of that, and if you don't have the ability or the training to deal with that aspect, getting them off the drug isn't as successful," says Rai.

Nygren will be testifying about this bill before an Assembly Committee Wednesday in Madison.