The scourge of opioid abuse and overdose deaths sadly still is on the rise in Wisconsin and across the nation.
And it’s killing us. Relatives, friends and neighbors.
As The Journal Times reported over the weekend, opioid related drug deaths here in the Badger state climbed to 883 last year — more than three times the death rate recorded just 12 years ago.
That’s an echo of U.S statistics, which showed almost a fivefold increase in opioid related deaths in the 15 years between 2002 and 2017, when they went from a little more than 10,000 nationwide to more than 49,000 deaths.
To put it in perspective, Wisconsin’s 883 opioid deaths last year compare to 545 deaths on the state’s roads that year. It’s a quieter carnage, but the scope of it is almost unfathomable. If we had 883 deaths on state roads in a year, there would be a public outcry demanding solutions.
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Little by little, we seem to be taking the lesson to heart and adding more tools to combat the opioid scourge and turn the needle downward on the death toll.
Here in southeast Wisconsin, that came in the opening last month of a free and confidential Wisconsin Addictions Recovery Helpline with expanded crisis phone services to provide answers for those suffering addiction or advice on giving help to friends and family members struggling with addiction problems. All that you have to do is call 211 or 833-944-4673; or go to the website AddictionHelpWI.org.
The 211 call center is free, confidential and staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is a collaboration between public and private entities.
“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,” said Charlene Mouille, the executive director of United Way of Wisconsin, which provides some funding for the call program. “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.”
In that effort, Racine also got the news this fall that outpatient treatment facility, CleanSlate, 5439 Durand Ave., No. 103, opened in September across from Regency Mall. That too, should provide a resource in our area.
Congress added to the impetus to quell opioid deaths in October, passing a bipartisan bill to target opioid trafficking, particularly through the postal system, and reaffirming a commitment to state grants — and gives states more freedom in how to allocate them — that continues $500 million a year in funding. Wisconsin officials said in September the state was awarded a two-year federal grant of $24 million to fight opioid abuse and Gov. Scott Walker has signed into law 30 pieces of legislation related to prevention, treatment and recovery efforts to curb the opioid crisis.
Whether these efforts are enough to blunt the opioid epidemic and its tragic impact on families here and elsewhere in the U.S. is difficult to say. But at least we’re taking some steps to reverse the trend.