MILWAUKEE — It’s no longer a question that opioid abuse has become a rising problem in Wisconsin. In 2017, nearly twice as many people died from opioid overdoses (916, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services) as car crashes (545, according to the Department of Transportation) in the state.
On top of that, for the third straight year, U.S. life expectancy has dropped, according to the report from the National Center for Health Statistics. Many attribute that decline to the nationwide rise in opioid-related deaths and suicides. This is the first time in almost a century that American life expectancy dropped three years in a row, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Public and private entities are now collaborating to provide resources, aid and crisis intervention to those who are looking for a lifeline in drug addiction or those facing other life-threatening crises. Last month, the free and confidential Wisconsin Addiction Recovery Helpline premiered, expanding existing crisis phone services.
The 24/7 telephone hotline can be reached by calling 211 or 833-944-4673, texting 898211, or through online messaging on AddictionHelpWI.org. Trained operators can provide answers for those suffering addiction, or give advice on how to help friends or family members struggling with addiction.
211 services have been available for decades for a variety of issues — from health care to food and shelter needs to safety from violence — although they’ve grown increasingly focused on drug abuse in recent years.
Operators can connect callers with crisis and detoxification services, as well as counseling, treatment centers and outpatient services. Wisconsin’s seven 211 centers are connected to the same database, so if somebody in Racine calls to ask for help regarding a family member who lives in Superior, for example, they’ll still be able to get specific information regarding available local resources.
Call-takers can also offer guidance for health-care payment options and provide solutions to transportation problems.
211 in southeast Wisconsin
Calls originating from Racine County are routed through IMPACT, which is based in Milwaukee and covers all of southeast Wisconsin.
“People don’t know where to go or where to call … (or) what resources are available,” said John Hyatt, IMPACT’s president and CEO. “We’re hoping that people will call and get those questions answered.”
IMPACT has been operating as a 211 call center since the early 2000s, Hyatt said, but word about the 211 hotline has spread more rapidly in the wake of the opioid crisis. Now, it receives about 500 calls per day in southeast Wisconsin alone. Some days, he said, IMPACT fields as many as 900 calls.
The hotline receives funding from the United Way, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, various municipalities and counties, and numerous community organizations.
“It’s been building for the last couple years,” Hyatt said.
United Way has become more involved in recent months in response to the opioid crisis.
“We want people to know that recovery is possible, and the service is meant for anyone — whether you’re struggling personally or calling for a friend or loved one,” Charlene Mouille, the executive director of United Way of Wisconsin, said in a statement. “These resources are local, so we’re able to connect people with services right in their communities to help them get on the road to recovery.”
The helpline was in a direct response to the rising rates opioid abuse in Wisconsin and nationwide, although specialists can still offer help and insight into other forms of drug abuse, including alcoholism and methamphetamine addiction.
Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said that meth usage has been on the rise in southeastern Wisconsin. In November, Schmaling reported that his deputies recovered more than $30,000 worth of meth on Interstate 94 that had been intended to be sold in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha.
An opioid outpatient treatment facility, CleanSlate, 5439 Durand Ave., No. 103, opened across the street from Regency Mall in September.
State Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, threw his support behind the anti-addiction effort.
“It’s really important that we have clinics like this, with ethics and empathy,” Wanggaard said at a grand opening event for CleanSlate. “There are so many holes in the fabric that we still need to fill in, but this is an awesome start.”