The governor’s Task Force on Opioid Abuse convened for their first meeting on Oct. 28 in Green Bay and their second meeting on Nov. 22 in Weston.
In September, Gov. Walker issued Executive Order 214 to establish a task force to gather data, analyze actions of Wisconsin and other states, and recommend additional action items for the state to take to combat the opioid epidemic. A September 2015 report from the Department of Health Services found more Wisconsin citizens died due to drug overdoses than from motor vehicle crashes, suicide, breast cancer, colon cancer, firearms, influenza, or HIV.
Chaired by Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), the task force is comprised of 20 members, including legislators, certain agency heads, law enforcement, a public health official, and public members that have been affected by the opioid crisis. In addition, representatives from the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Hospital Association and the Wisconsin Medical Society are also on the task force.
The task force meetings have been an assortment of presentations from state and federal program representatives, individuals from treatment programs, health care providers and insurers.
At the October meeting, task force members saw a presentation from a federal DEA agent on national data on prescription drugs, heroin and other synthetic opioids. In addition, members heard from Attorney General Brad Schimel, who is also a member of the task force, who discussed the opiate problem in Wisconsin and the current efforts in the state, specifically highlighting the Department of Justice’s Dose of Reality campaign.
The first meeting also included an overview of the HOPE Agenda, led by task force co-chair Rep. Nygren. The HOPE Agenda is a legislative effort, spearheaded by Rep. Nygren to combat the state’s herion epidemic. So far there have been 17 laws enacted, spanning two legislative sessions.
At the November meeting, task force members discussed insurance coverage (both Medicaid and private) and a dialogue about treatment options and programs. The Department of Health Services Medicaid Director, Michael Heifetz provided an overview of treatment under the Medicaid program. Also, two Wisconsin health insurers, WPS and Molina, each discussed their plans’ treatment decisions, coverage, telehealth services and care coordination programs.
The task force also heard from a variety of treatment programs from across the state, including the three programs created because of 2013 Wisconsin Act 195. Act 195 created three new, regional comprehensive opioid treatment programs in rural and underserved high-needs areas of the state.
The task force discussed their focus areas for future meetings, including more discussion on insurance practices, examination of the Recovery Schools model and the replication of the drug court model in other settings.
The next task force meeting will be Dec. 16 in La Crosse.