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It’s official. The opioid epidemic is now a national public health emergency, a declaration issued by the U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services at the direction of the President. That follows on a recommendation from a report issued by the White House Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.

Just as the national commission has been fully focused on this issue, our state’s Task Force on Opioid Abuse has not relented in its mission since our first co-chairs’ report one year ago. We have continued meeting as a task force, and we have individually maintained an active presence across the state visiting care centers, touring hospitals, talking to law enforcement, and speaking to people in recovery and the families of overdose victims. Moreover, we have benefited in Wisconsin from the wise counsel and hard work of the staff at The Pew Charitable Trusts, national experts who have lent their insight and resources to our ongoing project.

On the basis of our continuing engagement with citizens across Wisconsin, and with the benefit of Pew’s expertise, today we are releasing a new set of recommendations to Governor Walker, the Legislature, and the people of our state. We are announcing them today at the Eau Claire Sheriff’s Department. We’re doing so by bringing together police officers, sheriff’s deputies, doctors, EMTs, and the families of overdose victims and people with lived experience, reflecting the range of citizens impacted by this epidemic.

These recommendations address the full spectrum of responses to this epidemic, built on four pillars: prevention, supply reduction, treatment, and recovery. We are grateful to our colleagues on the Task Force, those have provided testimony and information, and the agency staff and Pew experts responsible for developing and implementing the policies that make these recommendations concrete in the lives of people.

Our report invests significant new state resources to expand law enforcement efforts targeting drug trafficking. It puts dollars behind a Vivitrol program to help people coming out of jail sustain recovery with medication assisted treatment. It begins development of a hub-and-spoke model of treatment delivery to ensure every region of the state has a center of excellence that can provide intensive care to complex medical cases of substance use disorder. We recommend funding additional services for at-risk youth, training for county social services workers on the front lines of this crisis, and extra student slots for UW’s mental health nursing program. In total the report offers over twenty ideas building on all four pillars to confront this crisis.

Reviewing the White House Commission’s interim and final reports, we were encouraged to see that Wisconsin is already implementing a number of the best practices identified nationwide. Our state is leading the way, and while those reports confirm our proactive approach, they also prompt us to recommit to maintaining our state’s position on the forefront of innovation addressing this crisis. Our kids and families deserve nothing less.

— Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and State Rep. John Nygren are co-chairs of the Governor’s Task Force on Opioid Abuse.


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