Recent Surge in U.S. Drug Overdose Deaths has Hit Black Men the Hardest

Black man upset holding head in hands

Oringinal article by John Gramlich
Original Article can be found here: Recent surge in U.S. drug overdose deaths has hit Black men the hardest

Nearly 92,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2020, marking a 30% increase from the year before, a 75% increase over five years and by far the highest annual total on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Preliminary figures suggest that the 2021 death toll from overdoses may be even higher.

While overdose death rates have increased in every major demographic group in recent years, no group has seen a bigger increase than Black men. As a result, Black men have overtaken White men and are now on par with American Indian or Alaska Native men as the demographic groups most likely to die from overdoses.

There were 54.1 fatal drug overdoses for every 100,000 Black men in the United States in 2020. That was similar to the rate among American Indian or Alaska Native men (52.1 deaths per 100,000 people) and well above the rates among White men (44.2 per 100,000) and Hispanic men (27.3 per 100,000). The overdose death rate among men was lowest among Asians or Pacific Islanders (8.5 per 100,000).

As recently as 2015, Black men were considerably less likely than both White men and American Indian or Alaska Native men to die from drug overdoses. Since then, the death rate among Black men has more than tripled – rising 213% – while rates among men in every other major racial or ethnic group have increased at a slower pace. The death rate among White men, for example, rose 69% between 2015 and 2020.

As has long been the case, women in the U.S. are less likely than men to die from drug overdoses. But death rates have risen sharply among women, too, especially Black women. 

Chart of drug overdose death among black men in the US

The overdose fatality rate among Black women rose 144% between 2015 and 2020, far outpacing the percentage increases among women in every other racial or ethnic group during the same period.

Despite the steep rise in the overdose death rate among Black women, American Indian or Alaska Native women continued to have the highest such rate in 2020, as has been the case for most of the past two decades. There were 32 overdose deaths for every 100,000 American Indian or Alaska Native women in 2020, compared with 21.3 deaths for every 100,000 White women and 18.8 deaths for every 100,000 Black women. Fatality rates were much lower among Hispanic women (7.5 per 100,000) and Asian or Pacific Islander women (2.7 per 100,000).

The racial groups in this analysis include people of one race, as well as those who are multiracial. All death rates are adjusted to account for age differences between U.S. demographic groups. For more information about the methodology, read the “How we did this” box.

Overdose deaths have risen sharply during the pandemic

While overdose deaths in the U.S. were on the rise long before the outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020, such fatalities have accelerated during the pandemic, the CDC has noted.

Nationwide, the monthly number of drug overdose deaths had never exceeded 6,500 before March 2020. Between March and December 2020, there were more than 7,100 such deaths each month, including nearly 9,400 in May 2020 alone.

Experts have pointed to several possible reasons for the increase in overdose deaths during the outbreak, including less access to treatment and a rise in mental health problems associated with the pandemic.

The opioid epidemic has also played an important role in the soaring number of overdose deaths, both during the pandemic and in the years leading up to it. Three-quarters of all fatal overdoses in 2020 involved opioids, with more than six-in-ten involving synthetic opioids – a category that includes fentanyl, a potent pain relief drug that is commonly manufactured and sold illegally.

 The overdose fatality rate involving synthetic opioids rose nearly sixfold between 2015 and 2020, from 3.1 to 17.8 deaths per 100,000 people.

Monthly drug overdose death chart

Earlier waves of opioid overdose deaths in the U.S. involved heroin and prescription opioids, respectively.

Death rates have also risen sharply in recent years for overdoses involving stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine. The fatality rate for overdoses involving cocaine nearly tripled between 2015 and 2020, from 2.1 to 6.0 deaths per 100,000 people. 

The fatality rate for overdoses involving methamphetamine and other psychostimulants more than quadrupled between 2015 and 2020, from 1.8 to 7.5 deaths per 100,000 people. These deaths have disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minority groups.

Even as overdose deaths have soared, public concern about drug addiction in the U.S. has ticked down, according to Pew Research Center surveys. In early 2018, 42% of U.S. adults said drug addiction was a major problem in their community, but that percentage declined to 35% in October 2021.

Around four-in-ten Black (42%) and Hispanic adults (41%) said in the 2021 survey that drug addiction was a major problem in their community, compared with smaller shares of White (34%) and Asian adults (20%).

Drug addiction chart

CORRECTION (Jan. 21, 2022): An earlier version of this analysis, including a chart headline, incorrectly said that Black men were the demographic group most likely to die from drug overdoses in 2020. The fatality rate among Black men in 2020 was similar to the rate among American Indian or Alaska Native men but did not statistically exceed it.

#EndOverdose: Advocates Bring Awareness to Dane County’s Ongoing Opioid Overdose Epidemic

End overdose images

This article by Maggie Ginsberg originally appeared in the December 2021 Edition of Madison Magazine. To view the original article, click here.

Even as the crisis worsens in Dane County and overdose deaths across the country approached 100,000 in a 12-month period for the first time ever, some promising harm reduction initiatives are giving rise to something else: Hope.
Opioid overdose deaths have nearly doubled in Wisconsin since 2014, due to skyrocketing fentanyl poisonings and a pandemic season that has aggravated the factors that drive substance use disorder and keep people locked in the cycle of addiction. Even as the crisis worsens in Dane County and overdose deaths across the country approached 100,000 in a 12-month period for the first time ever, some promising harm reduction initiatives are giving rise to something else: Hope.

Row after row of white flags line the sidewalk along Olbrich Park, as far as the eye can see. Surrendered and still on a windless night in late August, heavy with scrawled names and brokenhearted messages, each flag has been placed there by a loved one. This is the fourth annual International Overdose Awareness Day Remembrance event, organized by Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County, and the event’s message is clear from the scattered signs and T-shirts that say, simply, “#EndOverdose.”

Down on the sprawling grass leading toward Lake Monona, a microphone waits for a lineup of speakers while half a dozen tents shade the sponsoring organizers and participants. The Wisconsin Recovery Advocacy Project is here, drawing attention to a policy platform that includes calling on lawmakers to restore the portion of the 911 Good Samaritan Law that reverted last year so that it no longer protects an overdosing person from arrest. The African American Opioid Coalition of Dane County is also here, working to address the fact that, although community sentiment took a more compassionate turn toward treatment versus incarceration after the opioid epidemic ravaged white suburban communities, communities of color are still overincarcerated for drugs of all kinds — and Black individuals in Dane County are dying from opioid poisonings at an alarmingly higher rate.

Two tents down, staff members from ARC Community Services are handing out free boxes of the lifesaving overdose-reversal drug naloxone, better known by its brand name, Narcan. Among the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 10 evidence-based strategies for preventing opioid overdose, targeted naloxone distribution is listed first. They’re also giving out hard-to-come-by fentanyl test strips — even though possessing them is technically illegal because they’re considered “drug paraphernalia” under state law (another thing the Recovery Advocacy Project wants to change) — because they want to empower people to test their substances before using. Measures like this are what’s known as harm reduction — “a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use,” according to the National Harm Reduction Coalition — and it’s steering nearly every organization’s efforts here today.

Lethally potent and profoundly addictive, fentanyl now permeates the local drug supply, showing up in everything from heroin to cocaine and meth to cannabis, and even in counterfeit prescription pain pills. In 2014, 10% of opioid overdose deaths in Dane County involved fentanyl or other synthetic opioids. By 2017, that portion had grown to more than half.

In 2020, it exploded to 86%.

In May 2019, fentanyl-laced marijuana was responsible for the fatal overdose of C.J. Tubbs, son of Charles Tubbs, Dane County’s director of emergency management systems. This was part of the impetus, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi will explain in a later phone call, for the push to create the Behavioral Health Resource Center that opened in November 2020 and the newly announced Crisis Triage Center for which Parisi has set aside $10 million in his 2022 budget. “Because even someone as connected as Charles Tubbs and his family found themselves in situations with their son … late at night … having a behavioral health challenge … not really sure who to call,” Parisi says.

Tubbs speaks at this event, his tone somber as he describes his wife finding their beloved son’s body when she went to wake him for dinner. It marked the end of a long and troubled journey for family members, who struggled with how best to help, as so many do. “In my professional career, I’ve delivered that death notice to families probably hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times,” Tubbs tells the crowd. “I never thought I would experience it myself.”

It’s an all too familiar story for those gathered at Olbrich Park — you never think it will happen to you or your loved one, until it does. They’re here to listen, to collectively mourn, to grapple for answers and look for comfort among people who get it — and to find hope in the efforts on display. As overwhelming as it feels — and as impossible as it would be to provide a comprehensive picture of all of the organizations across Dane County that are working hard on this issue — a few groups are making headway with new approaches to the old, painful, wildly complex issue we now call substance use disorder.

The Rise of Peer Recovery Coaches

“I really started to see it, feel it, in January 2021. I felt like every day I was losing somebody, either personally or professionally, either to COVID, to a drug poisoning or to suicide,” says Tanya Kraege, a crisis clinician at Journey Mental Health and a peer recovery program manager at Safe Communities. In addition to factors like fentanyl and the impact the pandemic had on things like job and housing insecurity, Kraege speculates that when the vaccines arrived and the shutdowns began to lift, people who’d been living with unaddressed trauma came out of survival mode and endured an overwhelming rush of emotions. Kraege saw people with multiple years in recovery return to using — a sort of delayed response to a long year of isolation, a lack of control, and an inability to access in-person support groups and treatment providers.

But at the same time, Kraege had a front-row seat to the rise of the peer recovery coach movement, a relatively new model that represents a bright spot in recovery efforts. Peer support specialists or recovery coaches are trained and often certified community members who share their own experiences with substance use disorders. “The power of peer support is their lived experience,” Kraege says. “They get to speak a little bit more freely when it comes to self-disclosure than I as a clinician could do. To be able to say, ‘I’ve been there. I’ve walked in similar shoes. And I’m here to walk alongside you.’ ”

Safe Communities first piloted peer recovery coaches at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital – Madison in 2016 with a project called Emergency Department to Recovery, or ED2Recovery. If someone landed in the emergency room after a drug poisoning, they could choose to meet someone with shared lived experiences. If they said yes, Safe Communities sent a peer support coach to the hospital to serve as a trusted guide through whatever that person needed next. Nobody knew what to expect. One ER doctor said he would have been happy with a 25% or 30% success rate — but 90% of participants became connected to treatment options after getting out of the hospital.

Since then, not only has ED2Recovery expanded to include every hospital emergency department in Dane County, Safe Communities has also developed even more peer support programs that Dane County now funds (after a proposed $100,000 increase in 2022) at a level of $500,000 per year. Those programs are called Jail2Recovery, a partnership with Dane County Jail and Journey Mental Health Center for those currently or recently incarcerated; Diversion2Recovery, for people going through drug court, OWI court or pre-arrest diversion programs; All2Recovery, which connects peer coaches with existing organizations such as Centro Hispano of Dane County, JustDane or OutReach LGBTQ+ Community Center; Pregnancy2Recovery, which includes a coach who is also a doula; and TRC2Recovery, for those in treatment centers who request continuing support (in 2022, the latter three are combining to form Communities2Recovery). Safe Communities now employs 18 peer providers, including one devoted exclusively to working with affected family members. In 2020, Kraege says peers provided 5,649 service hours. By October 2021, service hours had already doubled to 11,888.

“We want to meet people in the community, meet them where they’re at,” says Kraege, listing places like parks, coffee shops, shelters and libraries. From there, it’s whatever they want — maybe accompanying them to a recovery meeting or one of Madison’s four state licensed centers for Medications for Addiction Treatment, or MAT, or helping with things like job applications and housing. Or maybe it’s just to talk — especially with someone they identify with.

Here in Dane County, where Black people are overdosing on opioids at a rate of 73.8 per 100,000 as compared to 21.1 per 100,000 for white people, one group in particular — the African American Opioid Coalition, or AAOC — is hiring peer recovery coaches who look like the people they’re trying to reach.

Culturally Specific Recovery Efforts

“What we need right now is more recovery coaches looking like them, which we’ve been able to do,” says Charlestine “Ms. Charlie” Daniel, Safe Communities Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Falls and Drug Poisoning Prevention Program Coordinator and the founder of AAOC. Since 2017, the AAOC’s primary focus is improving the overall wellness of Black families by educating and raising awareness about opiate addiction — including hiring Black peer recovery coaches. “We are African Americans talking to African Americans,” she says.

Although she hasn’t experienced substance use disorder herself, Daniel founded the AAOC out of love for her community and, she admits, frustration. Although everyone agrees that families coming forward to help humanize the opioid epidemic throughout the 2010s was a good and brave thing that led to policy changes and public awareness, it also made something else painfully clear.

“We have African Americans who are still in prison for crack cocaine, and they were never, never offered treatment,” Daniel says, describing how it felt to watch the public rally around high-profile examples of affluent white people with substance use disorder over the past decade. “Who was doing this work with African Americans?” Daniel says. “There was no voice for us. And so the AAOC became the voice for our community.”

It’s a response echoed by every source interviewed for this story, including Parisi.

“When the opioid epidemic began, it was a predominantly white epidemic,” says Parisi. “And it’s really an unfortunate commentary that it took that for the nation in general to really start to view drug addiction as an illness and people who are addicted to drugs as people for whom we should have compassion. And, you know, it’s really, on every level, inexcusable.”

Further, Parisi says that drug laws and attitudes toward addiction that pre-date the opioid crisis led to longer prison sentences. “There are people sitting in [prison] today because they were addicted to the ‘wrong’ kind of opioid,” he says.

Meeting with elected officials like Parisi and other policymakers and stakeholders is one of the core components of the AAOC, which Daniel says now has about 25 members. “We have a prominent doctor, we have lawyers, recovery coaches, nurses, you name it,” she says. “It is culturally specific. Our main focus is to improve the overall wellness of Black families when it comes to this disease.”

Daniel also partners with the Dane County Sheriff’s Office to organize the Med Drop Sundays program, making her rounds to different Black churches and collecting parishioners’ old or unused medications. She hands out free medical lockboxes and gives presentations to raise awareness — often to grandparents raising grandchildren because of the drug epidemic — about how their prescriptions can be stolen, sold or used recreationally.

“We are always putting families first because it’s not only the person who is in recovery that’s affected, it’s the family, especially if children are involved,” she says. Despite the disproportionate overdose rates for Black individuals in Dane County — and despite the distrust of white systems and the stigma that remains, not only surrounding addiction but around asking for help — Daniel sees the AAOC already making a difference. “I have seen more African Americans in recovery than ever,” she says.

Public Health Madison Dane County supervisor Dr. Jill Denson became a member of the AAOC shortly after she began attending the state’s overdose fatality review sessions in 2020, where she really became aware of the disproportionate impact of overdose in Black communities.

“Although white people use opioids more, it’s really Black people who are dying from it more often,” says Denson. She says the message still isn’t reaching the full community, such as older Black people who’ve never used heroin but are now dying from fentanyl poisoning when they use cocaine. “We need to reimagine our harm reduction outreach and education to communities that probably think they don’t need that,” says Denson, noting that substance use disorder can cycle through and create damage across generations of families. Education, awareness and empathy are key because you know someone who is struggling, whether you realize it or not. “No matter where you live, no matter who you are, substance abuse affects every single community. It’s professionals, people who are working, who have homes, who have families. It’s anybody you can think of: your neighbor, somebody in your house,” says Denson. “People can keep those things very, very private, very secretive, because of the stigma and shame.”

Harm-Reduction Tools and the Role of Trauma

Denson’s duties include overseeing Dane County’s Syringe Services program, which provides clean, sterile needles and syringes, safe disposal of sharps, some wound care supplies and the distribution of naloxone — “harm reduction tools,” according to PHMDC Chronic Disease Specialist Kathy Andrusz and Disease Intervention Specialist Heidi Olson-Streed, who both work with the program. “These are very basic tools and they help people keep themselves safe,” says Andrusz.

Helping people use drugs safely might seem counterintuitive, but the evidence supports it. Syringe services programs are included in the CDC’s top 10 list, which says, “Nearly 30 years of research shows that comprehensive [syringe services programs] are safe, effective and cost-saving, do not increase illegal drug use or crime, and play an important role in reducing the transmission of viral hepatitis, HIV and other infections.”

PHMDC’s syringe services program began with needle exchanges in 1996 to fill gaps and support the pioneering efforts of the needle exchange (and, more recently, naloxone access) program of the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (formerly AIDS Network and now Vivent Health). But skyrocketing overdoses and a broader population of “more inexperienced or casual drug users” due to fentanyl have driven demand, and PHMDC’s program has become more comprehensive. In addition to distributing tools, Andrusz and Olson-Streed regularly help people solve immediate needs, or simply serve as sounding boards.

“Day to day for our participants, it’s terrifying. There is no safety net for people who are suffering, who are traumatized,” says Olson-Streed, adding that although underlying trauma often causes people to turn to substance use as a coping tool, the consequences of drug use can trigger new, compounding traumas such as housing and food insecurity, incarceration, watching friends die and lack of health care. She says in a perfect world, there would be housing first — “How do you get your life together when you don’t even have a place to sleep where you feel safe?” — and treatment on demand, not only when a person needs it but in the way that they need it. “Not everyone can take a month, two months off from life to recover,” she says.

Andrusz says true harm reduction would also make MAT more available and give people a place to go at the moment they’re seeking recovery. “Even with the primo health insurance that public employees receive in Dane County, there’s still a waiting period for medical recovery services,” she says. “Treatment on demand, even for the most ‘privileged,’ doesn’t exist.”

Olson-Streed says the pandemic has made all of this worse. People are more isolated, more desperate, managing more trauma. She says research has proven that the longer a person is engaged in treatment, the more success they will have — but nobody overcomes addiction without help, and the historical reliance on abstinence-based programs is no longer enough. “It’s a very complex issue, it’s a brain issue, and it’s not always a matter of, ‘Well, just go to these meetings for a couple hours every night after work and, when you feel you need to use, just grit your teeth and get through it,’ ” she says.

Still, while addiction is a chronic problem, people’s lowest points are only moments — moments Olson-Streed works to help them get past. “Whenever a person comes in and wants me to close the door of my office, I know I’m going to hear about something that is traumatic,” she says. “And the only thing I can do, other than refer them to resources, is just listen as a human being with another human being.”

Supporting Multiple Pathways to Recovery

Rebecka Crandall agrees that trauma is at the root of nearly all behavioral health challenges, including substance use disorder — and the trauma doesn’t stop with use itself and its consequences, but extends to formal systems, including treatment providers and jails.

“I think it would be helpful if the community and family members and treatment spaces recognized that treatment trauma is real and valid,” says Crandall, who serves as coordinator of the Hope Project, a program that provides comprehensive opioid treatment services for 50 woman-identifying individuals at no cost to them (made possible by a 2018 state grant). Of those 50 participants in 2021, 57% are people of color, 63% have housing insecurity, more than half receive or qualify for disability and 77% are justice-involved. Most, says Crandall, have some sort of negative experience with prior efforts at recovery but, with the tragic exception of two overdose deaths at the start of the pandemic, most Hope Project participants are still engaged in the program to varying degrees. The Hope Project is flexible, culturally sensitive and acknowledges “body, mind and spirit,” which means something different to each participant — and that’s OK.

“We’re not here to force healing on somebody or force abstinence or force change that they’re not ready to commit to, because that doesn’t work,” says Crandall. “If stigma and sanctioning people was an effective approach to substance use, we wouldn’t be where we are now in this mess.”

The Hope Project is housed within ARC Community Services, a nonprofit services agency operating residential, outpatient and intensive day treatment programs for women, transgender and nonbinary individuals, where counselors are certified in both mental health and addiction. Although ARC’s services are primarily abstinence-based, the Hope Project has no such parameters — and that’s key, says Skye Boughman, a licensed professional counselor who used to work at Safe Communities, where she founded the recovery coaching program; now she’s at ARC trying to combine traditional treatment models with the peer support concept. “It’s a way to bring the treatment system to the people as opposed to having the people have to get to the treatment system,” Boughman says.

That system, she says, remains difficult to access. Residential inpatient facilities are expensive and there still aren’t enough of them; people with insurance still face long waitlists because there aren’t enough beds. And although those with BadgerCare now can get treatment services at residential centers through Medicaid coverage for the first time ever, BadgerCare still doesn’t cover room and board — and the waitlists are even worse. “We’ve had people waiting for, like, eight months. People are dying on waitlists all the time,” Boughman says. There are other barriers, too, such as long intake processes or the requirement that participants not use any substances at all, from medical cannabis to treatments like Suboxone (the brand name for a combination medication containing buprenorphine and naloxone) and methadone. Boughman says that abstinence-only pathways are “incredibly valid” options for some people — but when they’re presented as the only option, too many people are excluded. “I think that abstinence-only models [can be] incredibly harmful to a lot of my community and have increased fatal overdoses across the board,” she says.

Fighting Stigma and Shame to End Overdose

Back at the overdose awareness rally at Olbrich Park, where Boughman and Crandall are handing out Hope Project brochures and those boxes of naloxone and fentanyl testing strips, Kraege is pulling her child in a wagon and Daniel is handing out medical lockboxes; the professional and personal feelings have blurred. The gathered crowd is the choir to which they already preach, and it’s a relief not to have to explain for just one night — to already speak a common language, however anguishing it may be.

“I tell my drug court participants that I’m not your judge,” Mitchell says. “I’m your reflection.”

Barrett, who has been milling through the crowd all night, listening to people talk and collecting naloxone to bring back to his deputies, says that the proposed consolidated jail project would include a medical ward that could make MAT possible. Right now, given the current, outdated facilities, the only treatments in use — nonaddictive, opiate-antagonist injections of naltrexone (brand name Vivitrol) administered prior to release — are not considered narcotics, so they are not subject to as rigorous a regulatory process as Suboxone and methadone would be. Additionally, the Vivitrol program is only available due to a federal grant that includes support from a nurse and social worker, but it is set to expire. In the two years since receiving the grant, Dane County Jail has administered 262 injections. This fall, Barrett also testified in support of Wisconsin Assembly Bill 317, which called for “[evaluating] the appropriateness of medication-assisted treatment” when people are convicted of operating while intoxicated.

“We’re not going to arrest our way out of the issues that we have in society, like addiction and mental health,” Barrett says in a later phone call. “Our City-County Building was built in the 1950s, was designed at that time to do one thing, and that was to punish and to be harsh. We are no longer in that mindset in the criminal justice system. We are about rehabilitation and providing resources and programming to help reduce recidivism that leads to a reduction in crime rates, which leads to an increase in public safety. So that is the ultimate goal. We are here to help. We want to serve. But we need not only the funding; we need the resources to be able to do that and be successful.”

Former Wisconsin Badgers and NFL running back Montee Ball takes the mic. Ball, who is in long-term recovery from alcoholism and is now a certified peer recovery coach, tells of suddenly losing his lifelong best friend to an opioid overdose. “I had no idea he was even struggling with opioids. This guy, every single day, had a smile on his face,” Ball says, reiterating — as all of the speakers do, and as the faces of this crowd reflect — that addiction and overdose can happen to anyone. Any age, any race, any background, any gender, any socioeconomic status.

Tim Togstad approaches the microphone. “Three years ago yesterday, my stepson, Colin, died of an overdose. His flag is out there with so many others,” he says. There is no worse feeling, but Togstad has found some relief in the local chapter of GRASP — Grief Recovery After Substance Passing. He feels less alone, even though the monthly meetings have moved to virtual spaces like so many of the other support groups, recovery meetings and behavioral health appointments. It’s something that has made all of this so much harder — further isolating people at a time when they need connection most. Still, that connection makes a difference. “Grief must be witnessed to just help you move through it,” Togstad says. “Just to process everything that you’ve been through.”

Finally, it’s time for an observed moment of silence. Afterward, one of the Safe Communities certified peer specialist and recovery coaches, Kay Hauser, closes out the ceremony as organizers hand out candles.

“I can’t tell you why my name isn’t on one of these beautiful memorial flags,” Hauser says. “But I can tell you why I’m standing here at this event today: We do recover.”

One by one, candles in hand, crowd members disperse into the darkening night and begin a slow and final walk through the flags. When each finds the flag that brought them here, they place their candle at its base and release the grief. They take all the time they need.

Tonight is for remembering, for mourning.

Tomorrow, the work continues.

Check Your Medication: Medication Review Resources

person looking over their medication

Medications Linked to Falls-Resource from CDC (PDF)

Postural Hypotension-Resource from CDC (PDF)

Wisconsin Pharmacy Quality Collaborative

The Wisconsin Pharmacy Quality Collaborative (WPQC) is an initiative of the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin (PSW) which connects community pharmacists with patients, physicians, and health plans to improve the quality and reduce the cost of medication use across Wisconsin. This team-based approach has brought stakeholders together in a unique collaboration with the goal of ensuring safe and high-quality care to patients in Wisconsin.  WPQC coordinates a network of pharmacies with certified pharmacists who have received specific Medication Therapy Management (MTM) training. WPQC pharmacists meet privately with patients to review medication regimens, communicate potential opportunities to improve medication use with physicians and other health care providers, and educate patients on the appropriate use of their medications. The medication use and safety goals of WPQC are to resolve drug therapy problems, improve adherence and coordination of care, and engage patients in their own care. Click here to access list of WPQC pharmacy locations.

Dane County Experiencing Increase in Medical Emergencies for Alcohol Overconsumption, Substance Abuse

MADISON, Wis. — Dane County is seeing a significant increase in the number of medical emergencies related to alcohol overconsumption and substance abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic, a release said.

Between Feb. 1 and May 10 there was a 37.9% increase in ambulance calls for people with substance abuse emergencies in comparison to a year ago. There were 666 EMS calls in that time frame, which is 483 more from the same time period a year ago.

“These numbers highlight the countless layers of this global pandemic and its many pervasive impacts on families and our communities,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said. “As we focus on the health and financial well-being of our community, we must make sure people also know about resources like the Recovery Coach program run by Safe Communities to get people help and confront addiction.”

The report from Dane County Emergency Management found there were 18 days in the time period where there were 10 or more 911 calls per day for substance abuse.

“Whether its drugs or alcohol, we know these are challenging times for those who struggle with mental illness and addiction,” said Cheryl Wittke, director of the Safe Communities Coalition. “Our team of recovery coaches have lived experience and know what it’s like to feel hopeless and struggling, making them the perfect community resource right now to help get those who want to change their lives take the first steps toward getting help.”

Those looking to contact a Safe Communities recover coach should email referral@safercommunity.net or call (608)-228-1278.

Original Article: https://www.channel3000.com/dane-county-experiencing-increase-in-medical-emergencies-for-alcohol-overconsumption-substance-abuse/
By: Maija Inveiss

People Reaching out for Help via Hotline is Increasing

Coaches say they’re optimistic that they’re helping people navigate the hardships of the pandemic

MADISON, Wis.– Safe Communities recovery coach supervisor Kristina Vaccaro said she lost her close friend to an overdose during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“She was very close to me. She was in recovery and she experienced a relapse and she passed away. She was really involved in all of our events and our overdose campaign that we do in August. She was always there and helping. So this is really tough.”
Vaccaro said her friend had been in recovery for several years and throughout that time, she experienced highs and lows. Although the pandemic can cause added stress for those in recovery and those who are currently using, Vaccaro said she will never know if the pandemic was her friend’s breaking point.

“These are members of our community,” Vaccaro said. “Young members of our community who are family members and friends. It’s heartbreaking.”

While Vaccaro may never know what led to her friend’s relapse, she does know that the pandemic is making many people in recovery consider using again.
Safe Communities recovery coach Rene Simon said the hotline they launched a week ago is “definitely” seeing an uptick in calls from those seeking help.

“My job isn’t to talk somebody out of using at any given moment,” Simon said. “My job is to offer them hope and the possibility that they can stop using if they want to. We don’t want anybody hanging up that phone without at least feeling like they’ve had a chance to connect with a person who is in recovery who understands what they are going through.”

Simon said the first thing she does when she takes a call is thanks the person on the other end because she knows that asking for help from a stranger is difficult.
She then talks with them about what their situation is and asks, “If you want to use right now, what is something else you can do instead?”
Simon and Vaccaro said showing compassion and understanding on top of providing human connection is crucial right now.

Although Simon said it’s heartbreaking to hear that there is an uptick in overdoses, “When we see an increase in opioid deaths, we are [also] grateful to be seeing an uptick in calls because we are able to help those people not end up a statistic.”

The hotline number for Safe Communities is (608)-228-1278. For more information, visit https://safercommunity.net/parent-addiction-network/signs-symptoms/

Original Article: https://www.channel3000.com/recovery-coaches-say-number-of-people-reaching-out-for-help-via-hotline-is-increasing/
By: Jamie Perez

New Helpline Reduces Stress Related Alcohol and Drug Use During Coronavirus

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media Contact:
Cheryl Wittke, Executive Director
Safe Communities
(608) 256-6713

 

NEW ALCOHOL AND DRUG USE HELPLINE FROM SAFE COMMUNITIES

Safe Communities 24-7 Recovery Coach Helpline: (608) 228-1278
if incarcerated, call:  888-811-3689 x 1
Email: referral@safercommunity.net

 

A new 24/7 helpline is available for Dane County residents thinking about using alcohol and/or other substances or struggling with substance use issues during the coronavirus epidemic. For help, call (608) 228-1278. Calls are free. No insurance is needed.

This service, sponsored by the nonprofit Safe Communities, is for previous alcohol and/or other substance users, those now in treatment or those tempted to start, and those concerned about a loved one. Callers talk confidentially with Recovery Coaches who are not professional therapists but in long-term recovery from their own alcohol or other substance use and have training in how to help others as advocates, peers and confidantes.

“This is a very stressful time for everyone. People are worried about social isolation, getting sick themselves or losing their jobs and income.’ said Tanya Kraege, Manager, Safe Communities Recovery Coaching Program. “They can become vulnerable to alcohol or other substance use to feel better.”

“This is especially true for those who are working to be in recovery or are already in long-term recovery. Relapse rates increase with stress brought on by loss of income, social isolation and anxiety. They may face additional treatment barriers due to coronavirus-related closures of treatment programs and an overwhelmed health care system.”

People living with substance use disorder are overrepresented in the hospitality business, including restaurants. “Hospitality, travel and leisure employees make up 11% of the entire American work force with over 20,000 working in Dane County alone,” said Jason Illstrup, president of Downtown Madison, Inc. “The lives of many hospitality employees turned upside down with the onset of COVID-19. Many are furloughed, working on reduced hours or, worse yet, terminated. Programs like Safe Communities Recovery Coaching Program will provide instant help to those most in need during a time when any helping hand could save a life.”

Although talking to a recovery coach won’t change the circumstances, coaching is a proven strategy to prevent return to use of substances.
Coaches represent all ages and include African Americans, Latinos and LGBTQ. Coaches answer calls themselves and may refer callers to a different coach if someone better fits their experience and concerns.

Safe Communities Executive Director Cheryl Wittke encourages families and friends of persons in recovery to be especially attentive to warning signs that the person might be at risk of return to use. Some of the signs are listed at https://www.unityrehab.com/blog/10-relapse-signs/

The Recovery Coach 24-7 Helpline is an expansion of other highly impactful recovery coaching programs operating in Dane County. These include:

  • ED 2 Recovery: with an 88% referral to treatment rate among people who sign-on with a recovery coach after treatment for an overdose in the emergency room
  • Jail 2 Recovery: which has served nearly 300 people at high risk of overdose after a period of abstinence during incarceration
  • Pregnancy 2 Recovery: which matches pregnant women with coaches who used during pregnancy and are now in recovery
  • Family Coaches: parents who’ve gone through the struggle of navigating a child’s addiction and are now available to provide guidance to parents facing the same challenges.

Funding from Dane County and UW Health/UPH-Meriter/Quartz are making this helpline possible.
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi stated: “Dane County is proud to be the first county in the state to support recovery coaching – a proven strategy to help people with addiction find recovery. Now as we work together to contain the coronavirus, we can’t lose sight of how our opioid overdose epidemic continues to threaten lives, particularly as these two epidemics converge. Through our sponsorship of Safe Communities’ 24-7 Recovery Coaching Helpline, Dane County is extending our commitment to support people through this crisis.”

“UW Health Is pleased to support Safe Communities 24-7 Recovery Coaching Helpline. This critical resource will help our patients and any community member struggling with addiction find help during these stressful times”, said Beth Lonergan, Director of Behavioral Health for UW Health.
Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin and SSM Health are also sponsoring the launch.

Safe Communities is a nonprofit coalition of over 350 organizations working together to save lives, prevent injury and make Dane County safer. Funding is provided by federal, local and foundation grants, project sponsors, memberships and individual donors. For more information and a listing of Sustaining Members, visit SaferCommunity.net.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Local recovery groups (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Smart Recovery) are also working to create virtual meetings to support people’s recovery.

http://aaphonemeetings.org/
https://www.12step-online.com/meetings/online-aa-meetings/
http://www.badgerlandna.org/meetings/
https://aamadisonwi.org/
https://virtual-na.org/

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, For Medical Emergency, Dial: 911
For community resources, call United Way: Dial 211.

Journey Mental Health Crisis Line: (608) 280-2600

National Suicide Prevention Line:

1-800-273-TALK (8255)
1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)
Veterans Press 1, En Español Oprima El 2

For people living with mental illness seeking peer support

Solstice House Warm Line: (608) 244-5077; soaroffice@soarcms.org

NAMI Dane County Peer Support: (608) 249-7188
https://www.namidanecounty.org/covid19

 

AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEWS:

Tanya Kraege, Manager, Safe Communities Recovery Coaching Program
and Safe Communities Recovery Coaches
(608)-228-3295

Jason Ilstrup, Executive Director, Downtown Madison Inc
(608)-512-1330

Steve Starkey, Executive Director, Outreach LGBT Community Center
(608)-255-8582

Dr. Ruben Anthony, Executive Director, Urban League of Greater Madison
(608)-729-1208

 

ORGANIZATIONS SUPPORTING SAFE COMMUNITIES 24-7 RECOVERY COACH HELPLINE:

Dane County
UW Health/Quartz/UPH-Meriter
Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin
SSM Health
Outreach LGBT Community Center
Urban League of Greater Madison
Downtown Madison Inc.
Destination Madison
Sustaining Members of Safe Communities (see www.safercommunity.net for listing)

Moving the Needle on Addiction

MADISON, Wis. — This past weekend, Safe Communities held a Recovery and Hope Town Hall Meeting.

Despite being after the fact, we want to take this opportunity to reflect on the extraordinary accomplishments Safe Communities has achieved in raising public awareness and effecting policy changes and health outcomes in opioid addiction. Communities around the country are struggling mightily with this issue and you’d be hard pressed to find a program as successful as this one.

Over 18 tons of unused medicines have been collected in six years. All Dane County EMS agencies and most police departments are equipped to administer life-saving naloxone. The Parent Addiction Network was founded to support families facing addiction.

The Comprehensive Community Services program was launched, as was the Madison Addiction Recovery Initiative. Ninety percent of people treated for overdose and connected with ED to Recovery are enrolling in treatment. There’s an online directory of landlords and employers welcoming people to recovery – and so much more.

Safe Communities is terrific and it works.

Original Article: https://www.channel3000.com/editorial-safe-communities-moving-the-needle-on-addiction/
By: Neil Heinen

Surgeon General recommends Expanding Naloxone Access

MADISON, Wis. — The surgeon general announced Thursday that he encourages people to carry a drug that revives victims of overdoses.

Dr. Jerome Adams made a statement today saying family members of those at risk of overdose should carry naloxone, a drug that combats the effects of opioid.
The drug, also called Narcan or Evzio, is already carried by emergency responders. Efforts are underway to make the drug more available.

Cheryl Wittke, of Safe Communities Madison-Dane County, said she agrees with the surgeon general’s statement.

“You know family members. If you got any concern about a family member who is dealing with an opioid addiction, really, we encourage everybody to have it. We have trainings through the Parent Addiction Network where family members, anybody can come to a quarterly training that we offer with AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin to get naloxone and be trained on how to use it. So really, yes, everybody should have it,” Wittke said.

According to Wittke, overdose deaths often occur when a family member who could have administered naloxone, is in the next room.
The number of opioid overdose deaths has doubled since 2010. The announcement from the surgeon general shows the extent of the opioid crisis.
The advisory considers those at risk for overdose as individuals who take opioid prescriptions for pain and those abusing opioid drugs, including heroin.

Original Article: https://www.channel3000.com/surgeon-general-recommends-expanding-naloxone-access/

Coaching Reduces Opioid Prescribing at UW Health Clinics

Opioid doses dropped 11 percent at UW Health clinics that paid special attention to urine drug testing and other monitoring of patients, while doses went up 8 percent at other UW clinics, a new study found. UW researchers hope to expand the program, which uses “systems consultation” to help primary care doctors follow opioid prescribing guidelines, to other clinics at UW and around the state.

That could help curb the opioid abuse epidemic in Wisconsin, where 827 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016, up 35 percent from the previous year and more than double the toll from a decade earlier. The fewer pills prescribed, the less chance for misuse by patients or others, experts say.
“Reducing the overall supply (of opioids) is important from the population health perspective,” said Dr. Randall Brown, an associate professor of family medicine at UW-Madison who specializes in addiction medicine.

“If we reduce ineffective or inappropriate prescribing, (opioid) dose will come down,” said Dr. Aleksandra Zgierska, an assistant professor of family medicine at UW-Madison who also specializes in addiction medicine.
Opioids include prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine and fentanyl, as well as illicit drugs such as heroin. As overdose deaths have soared around the country in recent years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board, among other groups, have issued guidelines for proper prescribing.

In 2016, Brown and Zgierska worked with Andrew Quanbeck, an industrial engineer researcher at UW, to coach teams at four UW family medicine clinics on how to adhere to the guidelines.

Over six months, they visited the clinics, conducting audits and providing feedback.
The program focused on a few recommendations for patients on opioids for non-cancer pain: mental health screening, which can identify conditions such as depression that should be treated separately; treatment agreements, which patients sign to acknowledge risks and commit to safeguards; and urine drug testing, recommended at least yearly for people on opioids.

“They can help physicians initiate conversations about dose reduction, if that’s indicated,” Quanbeck said.
Six months after the visits ended, or a year after the program started, the average morphine milligram equivalent, or MME, prescribed to patients dropped from 87.1 to 77.2 at the clinics involved, an 11 percent decrease, according to the study. It was published in January in the journal Implementation Science.

At four UW family medicine clinics that didn’t participate, the average MME went up from 62.0 to 67.1, an 8 percent increase.
MME calculates the relative potency of various opioids. The higher the dose, the greater risk of overdose. The CDC says doctors should use extra precaution if patients get more than 50 MME and avoid or carefully justify doses over 90 MME.

The program joins other efforts to combat the opioid epidemic through prescribing. In April, the state started requiring doctors to use the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, a database of drugs previously given to patients, before they write certain prescriptions.

Many doctors have started prescribing naloxone, the overdose-reversing drug, to patients on high doses of opioids in case problems arise at home.

The UW researchers have applied for a federal grant to expand their “systems consultation” program to 38 clinics around the state.

“Clinical guidelines are often difficult to interpret for practitioners, and hard to implement,” Quanbeck said. “This is meant to be a model that potentially could be used nationwide.”

Original Article: https://madison.com/wsj/news/local/health-med-fit/coaching-reduces-opioid-prescribing-at-uw-health-clinics
By David Wahlberg

How the Opioid Epidemic is Impacting the Workplace

The opioid epidemic has become a serious problem in the United States, impacting every demographic segment of the population. Employers are on the front line of this problem, both because of the impact employees with opioid addiction can have on workplace safety and because these addictions can begin with prescriptions for work-related injuries. The Milwaukee Business Journal recently assembled a panel of experts to explore what companies – large and small – need to know about the opioid epidemic and the role they can play in mitigating its impact.

 

LAURIE GREENLEES (Moderator): How serious of a challenge for society is opioid addiction, and how does it compare to other addiction challenges the nation has faced or currently faces?

MICHAEL MILLER: Addiction has been affecting workers and workplaces for a very long time. Alcohol has been a perennial problem. There were methamphetamines in the 1970s and the cocaine epidemic of the late 1980s and 1990s. The opioid epidemic is grabbing everyone’s attention today because of the overdose deaths. Alcohol kills, too, but it’s not as sudden – it can take decades.

KEVIN HILDEBRANDT: That is a very good point. Opioids are definitely a concern, but alcohol and other types of addictions are very prevalent.

JIM MUELLER: Drug addiction is costing us $80 billion annually in medical care, addiction treatment and lost productivity. There were 63,632 drug overdose deaths in 2016, with two thirds of those deaths opioid-related. To put that in context, the Foxconn deal was $3 billion and that was considered a really big deal and the 9/11 terrorist attacks killed about 3,000 people. We’re losing 63,000 Americans to drug overdoses every year. If those were war casualties, it would be front-page news and on all of the networks daily. It’s a very serious problem.

 

GREENLEES: How is it impacting employers?

HILDEBRANDT: It directly affects employers in terms of safety issues, productivity and lost work time. It can also have an indirect impact if the addiction is in the employee’s family. They’re distracted because their mind is on their loved one. I don’t know how big an issue it is nationally, but I know what I see and it’s frightening. There’s a young guy at work whose sister is addicted and there’s an older person whose son is addicted. It is hard for me to believe, but it’s true.

MILLER: Another problem is presenteeism, which is when an employee shows up to work, but is not productive. They may be hung over, in withdrawal or under the influence. They may be distracted because of a family member’s addiction. That impacts productivity, and can lead to workplace errors and injuries.

HILDEBRANDT: It can be very difficult for an employer to help when it is an employee’s family member who is addicted. You can tell something is wrong because the employee is distracted, but it is very difficult to understand how you can help.

MILLER: That’s why employee assistance programs (EAPs) are so important. They let people get help confidentially.

MUELLER: Drug problems are an especially big problem for employees right now because there is such a supply and demand issue for workers. Employers’ priorities change over time. Ten years ago it was health care. Right now it is hiring and retention. I also think opioid addiction is a big workplace safety issue. Not only for the worker, but for the people around them. I think the impact of drug problems on workplace safety is going to be fertile ground for legal liability in the future, especially for employers who are not proactive in this space.

 

GREENLEES: From an employment perspective, is opioid addiction more or less of a problem than other addictions?

HILDEBRANDT: I would go back to some of the comments Dr. Miller made. The addiction problem is probably more pronounced when you look at alcohol or tobacco, but opioid addiction is more impactful from a perception standpoint.

MILLER: One of the challenges with opioid addiction is that there is such a significant overlap with the chronic pain population. It is very difficult to get those suffering from chronic pain back to work at a functional level after an injury. It really requires two different approaches. One is effective pain management and the other is addiction treatment, if necessary.

HILDEBRANDT: When someone who has an addiction problem is injured, the time it takes to get them back to work is extended. It’s even more challenging if it is an opioid addiction. It definitely extends the recovery time.

MUELLER: I would make two points here. The first point is that when it comes to addictions involving alcohol or tobacco, the solution is to eliminate the person’s need for those substances. When it comes to opioids, however, there is often an underlying issue related to pain. The cure needs to focus on returning the person to functionality, not eliminating the pain, and that requires a different type of treatment. The second point is that, unlike other addictions, opioid addiction often starts in the medicine cabinet. One study found that 54 percent of the time, the drug comes from a friend or relative. I have pain, you have medication. And, 82 percent of the time, that friend or relative obtained it from a physician.

MILLER: The pills may be given to them by a friend or relative or they may be stolen from the medicine cabinet. People with a 30-day supply of opioids for acute pain typically use three to five days’ worth, which means they have up to 27 days’ worth of supply sitting in the medicine cabinet. That’s why there’s been a major public health strategy to focus on safe medication storage and disposal. You shouldn’t keep extra prescription pills around. You need to take them to a designated medication drop location.

MUELLER: I agree. There are a lot of people who don’t realize that there are drug drops in Walgreens and most other pharmacies where you can dispose of your unused prescriptions.

 

GREENLEES: Many employers think they are inoculated from the opioid problem because they have drug screening programs in place. Is that an accurate assessment?

HILDEBRANDT: There are ways to beat drug tests so it is a question of what type of drug testing program you have, how effective it is and how representative it is of what is going on in your workplace. And the goal should not be to “catch” people, but to identify and help people so that you can have a safe and healthy workforce.

MILLER: There’s a tremendous misunderstanding when it comes to drug testing, which is that employment-based drug testing will detect people who are taking pain pills. Often, it won’t. The test looks for opiates – codeine, morphine, heroin and other substances that come from opium itself. Pain pills like OxyContin, hydrocodone and methadone are synthetic drugs. They are opioids, not opiates, and they are not detected by the common, commercially available drug-screening tests.

 

GREENLEES: What are the most effective treatment options for opioid addiction?

MILLER: The treatment for opioid addiction is unique in that medications play a key role. The medications are extremely important for improving outcomes because they block the opioid receptors, making it difficult for the drug to work. That creates a new issue, however, because the counselors who are on the front line of therapy cannot prescribe medications. You need to have licensed prescribers, which is why we are working to get primary care physicians more involved in treating opioid addiction.

MUELLER: An important issue is early identification, which can be a problem in our current, production-based health system where primary care physicians need to see 38 or so patients per day. You need to spend time with patients to identify this issue.

MILLER: Early identification is critical, and the best places are often in the workplace or schools. You want to get the problem identified – whether it is alcohol, cocaine, opioids or methamphetamines – before physical health and functionality are impaired.

 

 

GREENLEES: What role can employers play in reducing the opioid challenge? What programs and/or policies do you think we should have in place?

HILDEBRANDT: There are three or four different things. First, they have to be open to the concept that the addiction problem exists and that it is counterproductive to their organization. That starts the conversation. Reasonable suspicion training, which helps supervisors detect signs and symptoms of alcohol and drug abuse, can have a significant impact on early identification. The next component is having a robust drug testing program. Without that, you are not doing anything. The final component is being committed to helping employees by pointing them in the right direction and being accommodating to that EAP process. You do those things and you will have an impact. The worst thing an employer can do is nothing, because they will just be letting their problems compound.

MUELLER: The best practice I know of is QuadGraphics. They have an education program that involves all of their members – all of their employees, their families and their other dependents. You have to reach out to everyone.

 

GREENLEES: What would you say to employers who forego drug testing due to their concerns about finding a sufficient number of drug-free workers in a highly competitive job market?

MILLER: I can’t imagine a more misguided decision than to forego pre-employment drug testing. All you are doing is hiring people you don’t know anything about.

HILDEBRANDT: Drug testing can play a critical role in both weeding out job applicants and in helping employees. If you have a good employee who has an addiction problem, imagine how great they could be if they had a clear mind. Unions also play an important role. They can have just as much impact as employers on educating and influencing employees. Unfortunately, some people in union leadership do not want to address the issue.

MUELLER: A lot depends on the size of the employer. Small employers are at a significant disadvantage due to the time and financial commitment of a drug program. They do not have the ability to hire someone like Kevin with his expertise and focus. Drug testing alone can be a burden. For larger employers, it is a matter of priority and culture. When it comes to drug programs, about 20 percent of large employers are proactive, 20 percent are reactive and 60 percent are passive. Action is recommended, obviously. You have to know who you are hiring and you want to be able to identify and help your existing employees with robust EAP programs that provide counseling and treatment. Those programs that can really make a difference. Unfortunately, too many employers look at their EAP programs as a checkbox, something they have as part of their long-term disability coverage. It offers three consultations, period.

MILLER: I agree. EAPs can be a major part of solution, but they have to be high quality. They cannot be window dressing.

 

GREENLEES: What steps can employers take to increase awareness of EAP benefits?

HILDEBRANDT: You can treat it the same way you treat your retirement planning. Make them aware of it. You can also encourage employees to guide employees to an EAP instead of turning a blind eye.

GREENLEES: The Legislature is reportedly looking at the opioid challenge as part of a broader look at workers compensation issues in the state. What role can employers have in minimizing opioid prescriptions as a form of pain management for workers compensation claims?

HILDEBRANDT: One thing that I think can be done is for the employer to work with health care providers, workers and insurers. The communication has to be very effective and open. Employers can also do a better job of early detection using reasonable suspicion training programs and by working with insurers and providers to identify individuals who may be going from emergency room to emergency room in search of prescription drugs.

MUELLER: You have to look at the problem holistically and comprehensively. You need to have drug testing for opioids, which is beyond the regular five panel tests. You need to have education at the supervisor level, the employee level and the dependent level. You need to have good communication with your workers comp carrier. You also need to have access to treatment and to EAPs that have some depth to them.

MILLER: A lot of this work falls on the health care system. Educating and training doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe differently is really key. Benefit structures are also important. Current benefit designs incentivize the use of injections, nerve blocks and other types of interventional pain management. Unfortunately many insurers won’t pay for comprehensive pain treatment that uses counselors, physical therapists, massage therapists and alternative medicine. The same is true for pharmacy benefits, which incentivize the 30-day supplies that can be problematic when it comes to opioids. What if you had a plan design that had no copay for a five-day supply and the usual copay for a 30-day supply? That change would incentivize a safer prescribing process for opioids.

MUELLER: I agree. Acupuncture and alternative pain treatments are becoming more popular, but are still not frequently prescribed. We need to be trying different methods of treatments beyond prescriptions.

HILDEBRANDT: You need an aggressive post-injury, return-to-work policy where the person is not allowed to fall out of the work cycle. You need to get them back to work as soon as you can. When people stay away from work, they go backward. The sooner they get back to work, the better they are for themselves and society.

 

TABLE OF EXPERTS

Laurie Greenlees, MBA, PHR, SHRM-CP

  • Human Resource Business Advisor Manager and HR Hotline, MRA
  • Laurie is a certified Professional Human Resources manager with expertise in talent management, employee relations and engagement, compliance and best practices in FMLA and ADA administration and leadership development. As manager of MRA’s 24/7 HR Hotline, Laurie and her team of professional HR Advisors answer questions regarding the opioid crisis and its impact on area workplaces.

Kevin Hildebrandt

  • Director of Risk Management, Miron Construction Co., Inc.
  • Kevin provides support for Miron’s field operations, enhancing production while controlling risk for employees as well as customers, their facilities and equipment, and the public. He supervises the safe operation of all Miron equipment, and serves as the lead instructor for Miron’s professional crane operator development program.

Michael Miller, MD, DFASAM, DLFAPA

  • Medical Director, Herrington Recovery Center at Rogers Behavioral Health
  • Dr. Miller is a board-certified general psychiatrist and addiction psychiatrist. He has practiced for more than 30 years, and is a Distinguished Life Fellow of the APA and ASAM, as well as at-large director of the ABAM. He serves as a faculty member for the Addiction Psychiatry Fellowship and the Addiction Medicine Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Jim Mueller

  • Owner, Mueller QAAS
  • Jim has more than 30 years of employee benefit experience serving as president of Frank F. Haack & Associates and Zywave, one of the largest technology companies in the metro Milwaukee area. Jim helped Frank F. Haack & Associates grow into the largest benefit broker/consultant in Wisconsin and a top 70 brokerage firm nationally. He is now committed to providing employers objective advice on their employee benefit programs through Mueller QAAS.

 

 

Original Article: https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/feature/table-of-experts/the-pain-pill-problem-how-the-opioid-epidemic-is.html