Governor’s Task Force on Opioid Abuse Meets in Madison

Gov. Scott Walker’s Task Force on Opioid Abuse met at University of Wisconsin-Madison on Friday, Nov. 3 to discuss reduction of opioid prescriptions and workforce issues. The committee heard from several experts regarding the problems in Wisconsin and provided recommendations for the committee’s consideration.

Dr. Charles Schauberger, an obstetrician from Gunderson Health, began the meeting by presenting results of his study on over-prescription of opioids. Schauberger said doctors often prescribe more prescription opioid pills than patients need. Schauberger was wary of legislative action on this issue, and instead suggested using continuing education for physicians, electronic health records, and the prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) as solutions. Department of Safety and Professional Services Secretary Laura Gutierrez agreed, citing the PDMP’s success in recording a decrease in the number of opioids prescribed by 175 million from April to July of this year. Sen. Janet Bewley (D-Ashland) suggested adding a prescription drug manufacturer to the committee to comment on this issue.

Dr. Schauberger was followed by Dr. Catherine Best from Aurora Healthcare who spoke on increasing access to medically assisted addiction treatment by encouraging primary care physicians to become medically assisted treatment providers. Best cited several solutions, including reducing insurance barriers related to prior authorization for treatment programs and coverage for long-term treatment options.

Next, Dr. Alaa Abd-Elsayed from UW Health’s pain management center spoke about multidisciplinary alternatives to opioid prescriptions. Abd-Elsayed said he consulted with insurers on his pain management practices and suggested that alternative pain management might cost more for insurers initially, but are better for long-term treatments that avoid opioids and improve mortality rates.

Joe Muchka, Executive Director of Addiction Resource Council, then presented data on the substance abuse counselor and provider workforce. Muchka cited several barriers to expanding the workforce related to insurance. Muchka recommended increased Medicaid reimbursement rates for substance abuse disorder counselors. He also expressed concerns that counselors-in-training are not usually billable by commercial insurance and thus are difficult to support financially.

Finally, Dr. Brad Boivin spoke about the need to reduce regulations for additional certifications, supervision, and documentation for counselors and physiatrists treating substance abuse disorders. Eliminating these regulations would increase access to providers, Boivin said.

The meeting ended with an introduction of the Department of Health Services’ new Director of Opiate Initiative, Paul Krupski. The committee will meet on Dec. 1 in Stevens Point to discuss recommendations following a study on the opioid epidemic conducted by Pew Trusts.