State and county officials discuss battling opioid epidemic

Published: Jul. 7, 2021 at 4:14 PM CDT
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APPLETON, Wis. (WBAY) - Governor Tony Ever recently signed legislation paving the way for much needed funding to communities battling the opioid epidemic. The money would come from settlements with opioid manufacturers and distributors. Several lawsuits, on behalf of counties and the state, have been filed alleging the makers and sellers of opioids knowingly supercharged the opioid epidemic that has ravaged large parts of the United States.

Even with no timetable on when these payments can be expected, counties are planning on how best to use the funding.

Action 2 News recently brought attention to the growing number of opioid overdose deaths in both Fond du Lac and Manitowoc County. Discussed, during a roundtable discussion, among local county leaders and the WI Department of Health Services secretary-designee, it’s a similar story in counties across the state.

“In 2019, we had 25 overdose fatalities in our county with over 50% of those being related to opioids. In 2020, our preliminary data is showing that we had 35 overdose fatalities with nearly 70% of those related to opioids,” says Mary Dorn with Outagamie County Health & Human Services.

But recent bi-partisan legislation, signed by Governor Evers, lays the groundwork for how settlement money from drug companies would be distributed statewide.

According to Brown County Executive, Troy Streckenbach, “Whether it’s in our child protective services, whether it’s in our treatment, whether it’s in our medical examiners office, whether it’s in our jails, whether it’s in treatment, it doesn’t matter. We’re going to be able to direct some of those resources to help those people who are directly impacted.”

Under what is called Act 57, about 70% of the funding will be distributed to counties across the state. The additional 30% would be managed by DHS to meet additional needs in the opioid crisis. And while no one at the table would speculate as to how much settlement money might come in to Wisconsin, both state and local leaders believe the framework in place will lead to successful outcomes.

“The opportunity we have with these settlement dollars is to make sure//that we have an opportunity to continue to work along that continuum. So, upstream on prevention, harm reduction that we’re saving lives, treatment for people who need treatment and recovery which we know is possible with the right investment of resources,” adds DHS secretary-designee Karen Timberlake.

And until the additional money comes in, counties say they’ll continue to push forward with programs they are already seeing as successful.

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