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"There will never be enough money," Opioid epidemic rages on

Millions of dollars in settlement money can't solve all the problems facing substance abuse treatment
Posted at 9:31 PM, Dec 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-07 22:31:32-05
  • Video shows the interior of Mooring House, a substance abuse treatment facility in Appleton
  • The opioid epidemic: the challenges faced by those fighting it statewide and on the ground in places like Appleton
  • One woman who has been working in substance abuse treatment for nearly two decades says fentanyl has made a dire situation worse in northeast Wisconsin
  • Attorney General Josh Kaul says legalizing medical marijuana is a "no-brainer"

    (The following is a transcription of the full broadcast story)

There were 96 ambulance runs in northeast Wisconsin related to opioid overdoses in October of this year. That's according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services' latest data.

I'm Pari Apostolakos reporting in Appleton.

Here this afternoon, the Attorney General and Department of Health Services talked about how to end opioid overdose deaths.

"People that become addicted to drugs or alcohol are actually really great people that have just made some poor choices," Jolie VerVoort, who has worked with people struggling with addiction for nearly two decades, said. Now, she works at Mooring House; a substance use treatment facility in Appleton.

"We struggle with finding places for people to go after they have completed treatment," she said.

A challenge that Kirsten Johnson of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said is happening in multiple communities.

"[I] learned a lot today about the need for additional funding for transportation, for housing, and for prevention," she said.

Johnson and Attorney General Josh Kaul held a news conference after a roundtable discussion at the Appleton Police Department about how to combat the opioid epidemic, which Kaul said is one of the biggest public safety challenges in the state. But the conversation didn't stop at opioids.

When asked about the possibility of decriminalizing possession of marijuana, Kaul said when it comes to changing laws for medical marijuana, it's a "No-brainer."

"When somebody is struggling with chronic pain, I much rather would see somebody be able to have a marijuana prescription than using [opioids] when we know how dangerous opioids have been," he said.

According to the Department of Health Services, synthetic opioids like fentanyl and its byproducts fall under the category of prescription opioids.

"Fentanyl has been put in almost every drug. I'm on the death review committee for Winnebago County and Outagamie County, and many of the overdoses are because fentanyl has made its way into every single drug without anybody knowing that," VerVoort said.

Vervoort said in Winnebago County alone, they have already exceeded the number of overdose-related deaths that happened last year.

Kaul said Wisconsin has secured over $740 million in settlement funds from a multi-state investigation into opioid distributors.

"Despite the large amount of dollars that's coming into Wisconsin, there will never be enough money," Johnson said.

She told those present at the news conference that the state is also looking into alternative care providers because of a shortage of healthcare workers.