The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is seeking public feedback on how the state should use $8 million in funding for projects reducing harms associated with opioid use disorder.
The funding is from a multi-state opioid lawsuit that Wisconsin settled in February 2022 against several major pharmaceutical companies, including Cardinal, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Johnson & Johnson, according to the Department of Health Services. The state received a $31 million payout in 2022 and is due to receive more than $400 million in funds from the lawsuit over the next 18 years.
“The funds that Wisconsin DOJ helped secure from opioid companies will aid communities across Wisconsin in combating the opioid epidemic,” Attorney General Josh Kaul said in a DHS press release Thursday. “Input from those impacted by the epidemic will help maximize the good that these funds can do for Wisconsinites.”
Last year’s settlement spending plan approved by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee included funds for school and community-based intervention programs.
University of Wisconsin System programs that help to curb the risks of drug overdoses — specifically the implementation of Nalox-Zone boxes in university residence and dining halls — are a potential beneficiary of this year’s funds. These boxes, first installed at UW-Madison in November 2022 after previously being implemented at other UW schools, contain the medicine Naloxone to prevent possible drug overdoses.
University Health Services Assistant Director of High-Risk Drinking Jenny Damask spoke with The Daily Cardinal about the possibility of expanding the installation of Nalox-ZONE boxes in various locations on campus.
“Our goal really would be to expand and have some Nalox-ZONE boxes in a few other places on campus that make sense,” Damask said.
In addition to expanding the current program, Damask is also hopeful that the funds can be used to provide fentanyl testing strips. Drugs mixed with fentanyl are the leading cause of overdose deaths in Wisconsin, and fentanyl testing strips can be used to test whether a particular drug contains fentanyl within minutes, according to DHS.
“For a while, [fentanyl testing strips] were kind of hard to get and distribute, but they have been decriminalized in Wisconsin,” Damask explained. “Perhaps if there was funding for that, that could make it easier, or if there was a similar box that had testing strips in them.”
DHS data shows there were 1,427 opioid deaths statewide in 2021, a 56% increase from two years prior. Opioid-related hospital visits from 2021 totaled 4,258, with emergency room visits rising 19% since 2019.
The current Nalox-ZONE boxes are a solid start for opioid misuse reduction, according to Damask. However, she feels more boxes, more fentanyl test strips and better education of how to distribute Naloxone — perhaps through a Canvas course for students — would be “really helpful.”
“More boxes, more education, more training, fentanyl testing strips, all those things are so important because we know that just a little amount if someone were to take something could be deadly,” Damask said.