This story originally appeared on www.NBC15.com.
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – This year, the Department of Health Services expects to get nearly $31 million for the task to fight Wisconsin’s opioid epidemic.
The funds are the result of a settlement, as part of the National Prescription Opiate Litigation. About $6 million arrived as a first payment in late July, the DHS announced. DHS Secretary-Designee Karen Timberlake said Monday the plan to distribute the funds has been submitted to the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance.
Divided into three phases, the plan would largely tackle immediate needs, increase access to services around the state and invest in long term projects. Among the proposed figures, $3 million would increase the statewide availability of Narcan, the drug used to reverse opioid overdoses.
Set aside is even more money for capital projects, to expand prevention, treatment and recovery services.
“The longer we delay, the more we put at risk those who would benefit most from these life-saving investments,” Timberlake said.
Attorney General Josh Kaul (D-Wisconsin) spoke alongside health officials Monday.
“These funds have an opportunity to transform the response to the opioid epidemic and, finally, to turn the corner in this fight,” he said. “It’s critical though that those funds get to our communities as soon as possible because communities and families across the state of Wisconsin continue to suffer from the impacts of substance use disorder and from opioid overdoses.”
The Department of Justice has been working to “hold opioid companies accountable for their role in this epidemic,” according to Kaul.
Wisconsin’s opioid crisis began in the late 1990s, Timberlake said, amounting to an almost 900 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths from 1999 to 2018.
According to DHS data comparing demographic groups in 2020, Black people in Wisconsin had the highest rate of all opioid deaths.
“We don’t want to see our Black men or women ,again, dying from this when they don’t have to,” Carola Gaines, co-chair of the African American Opioid Coalition, said. “If they really want to change the narrative and they really want to transform issues then hopefully some of this funding will be involved in harm reduction, recovery housing and treatment.”
In the years to come, Wisconsin is due to receive more than $400 million in total settlement funds. Thirty percent of total funds will stay at the state level, while 70 percent will go to local governments.