Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch asked the audience in Eckstein Hall’s Appellate Courtroom a question: How many of you have been given a prescription for opioid pain medication in the last several years?
A large number of hands – perhaps a majority – went up.
Among these people, the drugs had been provided legally. But the large response illustrated one of Kleefisch’s main points at an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program on Thursday:
Powerful drugs are all over our communities. And, in a shocking number of cases, they are ending up being used for illegal purposes, they are triggering or feeding dangerous addictions, and they are leading the way for people to become involved in illegal drugs such as heroin.
Kleefisch and State Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) are co-chairs of Gov. Scott Walker’s Task Force on Opioid Abuse, created last fall. Nygren is co-chair of the legislature’s powerful Joint Committee on Finance, but also has a daughter who has struggled with heroin addiction.
Kleefisch said that Americans are 4.6 percent of the world’s population but 80 percent of the world’s opioid prescriptions are written in the United States. She also described efforts at the Oconomowoc middle school that her daughters attend to increase awareness aimed at prevention of opioid problems. Both of those points illustrate how wide the problem is.
Kleefisch said, “I would describe it as an American epidemic. It has no geographic limit. It has no demographic limit.” Nygren said more people had died in Wisconsin in recent years of drug overdoses than of traffic accidents.
Nygren has become a leader in legislative efforts to respond to the issue, efforts, he said, that so far have attracted unanimous support from members of both parties.
The governor’s task force is advocating for steps such as increased availability to people in medical emergency roles of drugs that can reverse an overdose, increased treatment of those who are addicted, and creation of charter schools to serve teenagers with addiction problems. Another idea described by Kleefisch and Nygren was hiring people who had overcome addiction as counselors for those who are struggling.
Nygren said that in his home town in northeastern Wisconsin and in surrounding areas, the percentage of people who were imprisoned for drug problems and who relapsed after being released was nearly 100 percent. He said treatment is far from perfect but has a better record.
“When we’re paying $35,000 year for a man and $41,000 a year for a woman in prison and getting zero results, let’s look at something that proves to be successful, not 100 percent, more like 60 percent,” he said. “But I’ll take 60 percent over zero percent success, at a much lower cost, any day.”
Kleefisch it was important to increase public awareness of how big the opioid problem is. She praised the program at the Law School as a good step toward that goal.
To view video of the one-hour program, click here.
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