MADISON — Drug makers are paying up. Wisconsin is set to get more than $400 million from two recently settled class action lawsuit settlements related to the opioid crisis.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), these are "from separate settlements with three opioid distributors Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen... and the other lawsuit was against Johnson & Johnson."
These blockbuster settlements will be paid out over several years. Thirty percent, or about $120 million, is expected to go to DHS. The rest is planned to go to Wisconsin communities that joined the class action suits, according to Paul Krupski with DHS.
DHS leaders decided on their own to hold listening sessions, surveys and painful conversations with families who have been destroyed by this opioid epidemic. The biggest push they heard loud and clear from everyone is to educate our children more about the consequences.
Take rural Big Foot High School in Walworth for example. They have one social worker, Kayla Guenveur, and one counselor, AJ Paul. Paul also juggles the role of drug intervention services for vulnerable students.
"For me, its only about a third of what I do because I have academic advising and career readiness," Paul said.
Kim Kaukl, the executive director of the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance, believes prevention will work if we invest in the most experienced staff possible.
"In many cases, a lot of our rural school districts don’t have social workers."
Guenveur says her background working in a mental health and addiction clinic has helped her spot vulnerable students at Bigfoot High School.
"Maybe their attendance is bad, understanding why that might be," Guenveur says. "Actually sit down with the student, build that connection and have them be open to eventually letting me know like, oh hey, I am using."
School counselor and Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (AODA) coordinator AJ Paul shares why its would be so helpful for the settlement money to go to our schools.
"It's because you have unmet needs. Right now, we have more students with referrals than outside therapists have room to see," Paul says.
Fifteen referrals to be exact.
"It's because you have unmet needs. Right now, we have more students with referrals than outside therapists have room to see."
Paul says it can get messier when a student needs in-treatment help, because many are not close by for Walworth students.
"Usually half an hour to an hour minimum," he said.
Kaukl adds, "My folks in the northeastern part of the state, sometimes it's a two to three hour drive for them to go."
There are glaring issues with access to treatment in large cities as well. That's something Krupski is paying close attention to.
"We don’t have the capacity of providers to meet the need of people's services," Krupski said.
According to DHS, Wisconsin is part of two more class action lawsuits. Both are ongoing. DHS can only recommend how the settlement funds should be used, but Wisconsin's legislature has the ultimate say. A timeline has not yet been set.