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Medigram | Wisconsin Medical Society
As Wisconsin faces a resurgence in opioid overdose deaths, the State Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety unanimously approved WisMed-supported legislation that can help save Wisconsin lives. The unanimous 11-0 vote for Assembly Bill 619, which removes fentanyl test strips from the definition of “drug paraphernalia” in the criminal code, occurred November 10 in the State Capitol.
WisMed member and Wisconsin Society of Addiction Medicine (WISAM) President Ritu Bhatnagar, MD, testified in favor of the bill during the committee’s October 20 public hearing, emphasizing how these testing strips can prevent someone from unwittingly taking a drug laced with fentanyl. The bipartisan bill is authored by State Assembly Reps. Jesse James (R-Altoona) and Sylvia Ortiz-Velez (D-Milwaukee) and State Sens. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) and Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee).
As a recent story in the Wisconsin Examiner about the legislation cites, Wisconsin Department of Health Services data show that more than 6,200 people in Wisconsin died of a drug overdose from 2014-2019, with nearly 4,800 of those deaths involving opioids. Another 1,900 of those deaths were heroin-related. The article also points out that last year in Milwaukee County alone 544 people died a drug-related death – an unfortunate annual record for the county – and more than 400 of those deaths involved fentanyl.
Contact Society Chief Policy and Advocacy Officer Mark Grapentine, JD for more information.
Wisconsin Health News
Wisconsin will receive $10 million over the next five years to fight the opioid epidemic, thanks to an initiative that’s expanding into the state.
The Bloomberg Opioids Overdose Prevention Initiative launched in Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2018. It’s now moving into Wisconsin, Kentucky, New Jersey, New Mexico and North Carolina.
“The coronavirus pandemic has only underscored the crisis we are facing in our state and country with the opioid epidemic, as opioid-related deaths last year exceeded 1,000 in a single year in Wisconsin for the first time,” Gov Tony Evers said in a statement. “It’s more critical than ever that we get folks support."
The initiative aims to scale existing efforts, implement new programs and advocate for federal policies to expand treatment access and harm reduction policies. It’ll support technical assistance, direct services and staff at government agencies.
The program's expansion is funded by a $120 million investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation, Global Health Advocacy Incubator, Johns Hopkins University, the Pew Charitable Trusts and Vital Strategies are partners.
The Senate Committee on Insurance, Licensing and Forestry unanimously approved legislation Tuesday that lawmakers billed as a technical correction so that more social workers can provide substance use disorder treatment without needing additional credentials.
Licensed clinical social workers are able to provide substance use treatment services within their scope of practice.
A 2018 law eliminated a requirement that other master’s level licensed mental health professionals, like marriage and family therapists and professional counselors, obtain an additional credential to provide the services.
However, lawmakers “unintentionally omitted” certified advanced practice social workers and certified independent social workers, since their credential is titled “certified” instead of “licensed,” Sen. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, said in testimony to the committee last week.
“This bill corrects this error and enables these master's level social workers to provide substance use treatment within their scope of practice, thus removing an unnecessary regulatory barrier that impacts access to treatment,” he said in written testimony.
The National Association of Social Workers Wisconsin Chapter and the Wisconsin Association of Family & Children's Agencies support the bill.
Two people registered against the plan. Michael Kemp, a certified substance abuse counselor, said he was “deeply disturbed by this effort to extend the scope of practice to professionals who have mostly received minimal education on the treatment of this unique brain disorder.”
Lawmakers are considering legalizing fentanyl testing strips, which can determine whether a substance contains the highly powerful synthetic opioid.
Current law considers fentanyl testing strips drug paraphernalia, making it a felony for any person to use or possess with intent to use.
Bill author Rep. Jesse James, R-Altoona, said last week the strips are “valuable, life-saving and very inexpensive.”
“We have a chance in Wisconsin to take a step forward in ending the increase of overdose deaths happening statewide,” James told the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety. “Saving lives should never be a partisan issue or up for debate.”
“Let’s prevent the next fentanyl death,” said Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, D-Milwaukee. “Let’s pass this bill.”
Kristen Grimes, director of prevention services at Vivent Health, said they distributed more than 54,000 fentanyl test strips last year. They received around 3,700 reports back about their use from clients.
The reports show that once clients identified a drug with fentanyl, they used safer behaviors to reduce their risk of overdose, she said. That could include taking less of the drug to see how it feels, using it with friends to keep an eye on each other and telling others about what they’re finding in their drugs.
“I can tell you from personal experience, our clients do not want to die,” Grimes said. “They’re tired of watching their friends die. And they can utilize fentanyl test strips to save their lives.”
Wisconsin Medical Society | Medigram
The Wisconsin Medical Society joined with the Wisconsin Society of Addiction Medicine (WISAM) in supporting state legislation that can protect lives by preventing inadvertent fentanyl overdoses. The legislation, Assembly Bill 619, would decriminalize the possession and use of fentanyl test strips (FTS), which can be easily used to test substances for the presence of the powerful drug. The bipartisan bill is authored by Reps. Jesse James (R-Altoona) Sylvia Ortiz-Velez (D-Milwaukee) and Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) and Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee).
“Saving lives should never be a partisan issue or be up for debate,” Rep. James said in his testimony as the main author of the legislation.
Ritu Bhatnagar, MD, testifies in the State Capitol
WISAM President and Society member Ritu Bhatnagar, MD appeared before the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety and gave excellent written and verbal testimony describing what she sees in her practice as Medical Director for NewStart, Unity Point Health-Meriter Hospital’s addiction treatment service branch.
“I have taken care of people whose lives have been turned upside-down by having a legal charge related to the possession of these fentanyl test strips,” Dr. Bhatnagar testified. “They have had a very difficult time, then, once they’re in treatment with me, trying to get their lives back together, look for work, try to find anything else with this on their record.
“Everything you’ve heard today about needing to have these (FTS) decriminalized so that people don’t enter the criminal legal system is absolutely essential because of the differential enforcement that’s happening around the state,” Dr. Bhatnagar said.
The bill is now eligible for a committee vote. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Wisconsin State Senate as Senate Bill 600. Contact Society Chief Policy and Advocacy Officer Mark Grapentine, JD for more information.
Save the Date for National Addiction Treatment Week!
Join National Addiction Treatment Week from October 18-24, 2021 and inspire the next generation of medical professionals to treat addiction and save lives! Each year, National Addiction Treatment Week raises awareness about the gap between the number of patients who need addiction treatment and qualified medical professionals available to treat patients using evidence-based approaches. The week highlights the critical need for more clinicians to enter the field of addiction medicine. Check out this year’s engaging schedule of events and ways to be involved! Mark your calendar today, join our partners and collaborators and spread the word to “treat addiction and save lives!”
By putting our combined resources to work, we all contribute to the health and wellbeing of patients!
UW School of Medicine and Public Health have 6 free new videos on why and how to address tobacco use among patients with severe and persistent mental illness:
Click to view: https://ctri.wisc.edu/smoking/
Lawmakers have brought back legislation that would align state law with federal law by raising the tobacco purchase age to 21, but health groups would like to see the bill amended to have a wider definition of vapor products.
The bill would align state law with the federal tobacco purchase age, enacted in 2019.
The legislation would allow state law enforcement to carry out the requirement since Wisconsin law otherwise doesn’t allow them to enforce non-criminal violations of federal law, bill author Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, said at a Thursday public hearing.
If the state doesn’t comply with the federal law, it could also lose its federal substance abuse and treatment block grant funds, which amounts to $2.7 million annually, Marklein added.
He noted the bill has the support of business groups, convenience stores and the tobacco industry.
“We support this bill because raising the minimum age to 21 is one of the most effective ways to reduce underage use of tobacco products, a goal that we strongly support,” David Fernandez, vice president of public policy for Altria, told members of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.
Health groups would like to see an expansion of the bill’s definition for vapor products.
Nicole Hudzinski, government relations director for the American Heart Association, said current state tax law defines e-cigarettes as devices and not liquids unless they’re sold together as one packaged item.
While the bill would apply to liquids with nicotine, it wouldn't for other liquids that also contain harmful ingredients, Hudzinski said. Accessories aren’t covered under the definition either.
And she added that some products are advertising themselves as gels and would not be included if the bill only specified liquids.
“We are really, really encouraging the committee to consider having a more comprehensive definition as we move forward,” Hudzinski said.
Committee Chair Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said he is working on the issue.
Sen. Eric Wimberger, R-Green Bay, has a “philosophical problem” with the bill.
“And I certainly don’t like the federal government dictating us,” Wimberger said. “The arguments, I think, are kind of obvious, but I won’t have to reiterate them, all about what it means to be 18 and whatnot.”
Wanggaard said he supports the plan in part because of concerns with the health effects of vaping.
The Assembly approved the legislation in early 2020, but the Senate didn’t take up the bill after it canceled one of its final floor periods due to COVID-19.
Wisconsin Department of Health Services
A Message from Paul Krupski, DHS Director of Opioid Initiatives
Living through the COVID-19 pandemic this past year and a half has been difficult for everyone. All of us have been affected in different ways.
It has been a trying time for people struggling with substance use. In 2020, 1,227 Wisconsin residents died from an opioid overdose, driven largely by fentanyl and fentanyl mixed with other drugs.
We are more committed than ever to our vision of zero opioid-related deaths. This may seem like an unattainable goal, but it is not. Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, for the first time in over a decade, we experienced a decrease in opioid-related deaths. With your support and partnership, we can prevent the consequences of opioid use.
We are working on several projects funded in part by new federal and state funding, as well as Wisconsin's share of settlements with the manufacturers and distributors of opioids. We'll provide updates on this work in future newsletters. For now, take a moment to review this newsletter to learn more about some of our current efforts to respond to Wisconsin's opioid epidemic.
DHS Renews Commitment to Reducing Drug Overdoses in Wisconsin August 31 is Overdose Awareness Day in Wisconsin
View the entire news release.
Governor Tony Evers has proclaimed August 31 as Overdose Awareness Day in Wisconsin, and the Department of Health Services (DHS) is urging residents to reflect on the impact overdoses have had on families and friends of people who use drugs in every corner of the state, and to renew our commitment to end overdoses in Wisconsin.
“There isn’t a community in our state that hasn’t been impacted by the opioid epidemic, and Wisconsinites who are struggling with substance use disorders deserve our kindness, compassion, and respect as they work toward recovery,” said Gov. Evers. “I’m glad to be declaring today Overdose Awareness Day in Wisconsin to remind us all of the work we have left to do to increase prevention and provide folks with the resources and support they need.”
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