Jeff Plale
Op Ed

Opioid Crisis Demands Bipartisan Solutions

In 2015 more people in state died from drug overdoses than car crashes.

By - Feb 24th, 2017 10:43 am

Pills by Tom Varco (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Pills by Tom Varco (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

These days, bipartisanship is a tough sell. Republicans and Democrats view each other in increasingly tribal terms, and working together on solutions to problems, large and small, has become increasingly rare. Once in a long while, though, an issue so big and so urgent comes along that constituents won’t stand for the status quo any longer and stand up to loudly demand that their elected officials act. Today, in Wisconsin and across America, that issue is the opioid epidemic.

In 2015, more Wisconsinites died from drug overdoses than from car crashes. From suburban Milwaukee to the rural north woods, families in every community in the state are being impacted. Our state has received unwanted national attention for this problem, as have our neighbors around the Midwest. Death tolls are an extreme indicator, but more visible for our children and our neighbors are the broken homes, crashed cars, and irreparable relationships that have infected our biggest cities and smallest towns alike. As prescription opioids like Oxycodone have risen in popularity among addicts, so have the cost of drugs, driving users to seek out cheaper, widely available heroin.

Too many statistics tell equally devastating parts of this story. In 2014, 8 out of every 1,000 Wisconsin babies were born addicted to opioids; 15 percent of high school students say they’ve used prescription drugs without a prescription; law enforcement budgets are stretched thin as cops are prevented from investigating dealers by dealing with minor drug-related crimes. Yet for the first time in a long time, Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature are coming together to tackle this problem.

Led by Representative John Nygren, the HOPE Agenda, a series of bills intended to address various aspects of this crisis passed the state Senate and Assembly unanimously last year. And the governor’s new bipartisan task force has already spoken out in 2017 about actions that can be taken to achieve new progress in this fight to win back our communities. As a former state and local elected official I know how rare it is these days to find consensus among the parties on any issue. Kudos to all involved for rolling up their sleeves and putting resources into the fight.

But all of this comes at a cost, one that’s a worthy investment for our state, but we should be sure that our actions provide the most medically and cost effective treatments and policy solutions available for our citizens. Responsible spending means more funding for outreach, treatment, doctors in rural areas and emergency clinics in inner cities. Irresponsible spending, on the other hand, means less of all the above. The price-gouging by one company, which manufactures a commonly-proscribed addiction treatment paid for by Wisconsin tax dollars, has been gaining attention around the state, and puts funding for all of these initiatives at risk.

Suboxone, a medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, is widely used to help wean addicts off their cravings while allowing them to seek mental health counseling, job coaching and other recovery services. But the maker of the drug is being sued by 42 attorneys general, with Wisconsin’s own AG leading the effort, for price gouging and product hopping. It’s also been called “the king of the jailhouse drug trade” for its ease in smuggling into prisons and jails. MAT has proven to be successful in helping addicts recover, but there’s absolutely no reason a drug maker like this should be receiving “preferred” status from the state Medicaid agency, as it is now.

Last week, the state opioid task force put forward its recommendations for 2017. These included addiction fellowships for rural doctors, cracking down on cough syrup with codeine in it, and greater funding for in-house recovery coaches for hospitals. These proposals have merit, and should be strongly considered by legislators this session. But there are more steps our state must take. Rejecting the status quo, and moving forward with bipartisan solutions, must happen and happen soon. Wisconsin can be a national leader in finding solutions to this crisis. It just has to act, and quickly.

Jeff Plale is a former Democratic state senator who served the metro Milwaukee area. 

2 thoughts on “Op Ed: Opioid Crisis Demands Bipartisan Solutions”

  1. Charles says:

    Bipartisan. Pshaw. The GOP needs to step up.

  2. Doug says:

    You forgot something in the bio part at the end: “Jeff Plale is a former Democratic state senator who served the metro Milwaukee area”, shafted State Employees by carrying Scott Walker’s water prior to him taking office and got not one, but two cushy high-paying jobs for doing so. Remember to tell the whole story.

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