Wisconsin officials lay out plan for use of opioid settlement funds

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin officials on Monday outlined their plans for how to spend tens of millions of dollars the state is receiving through the National Prescription Opiate Litigation settlement to help address the opioid epidemic.

The three-phased approach will focus on harm reduction, capital projects and other aspects of prevention, treatment and recovery, Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake said.

Phase one calls for spending $3 million to expand the Narcan Direct Program statewide, which provides Narcan to agencies and groups across Wisconsin to help in the event of an overdose. Another $2 million would go toward fentanyl test strip distribution, and $1 million would go to targeted grants to address the root causes of opioid misuse.

The second phase includes plans to spend $11 million on capital projects and $6 million for tribal nations in the state.

“In order to continue increasing access to services throughout the state, there is a need for both new and updated facilities across Wisconsin,” Timberlake said. “To ensure everyone has access to prevention, harm reduction treatment and recovery services, we must expand access, especially in areas of the state where facilities do not already exist.”

Tribal nations, she added, have seen a “dramatic” increase in opioid deaths, making the funding crucial for them.

Phase three includes long-term project investments, including enhancing DHS’ overdose alert system as well as money to cover room and board for people in residential treatment facilities and family support centers.

“These investments are critical to help Wisconsinites now,” Timberlake said. “We know that over 3,200 Wisconsin lives have been saved by the Narcan Direct Program from 2019 to 2021. We also know investing in the strategies proposed in the department’s plan has had a positive impact as we saw a downturn in deaths and overdoses just before the pandemic.”

Despite that, the downward trend reversed when the pandemic hit, which is why the state needs to take “critical action” to save lives, she added.

“The longer we delay, the more we put at risk those who would benefit most from these life-saving investments,” she said.

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance still needs to sign off on the plan.

In total, the state is set to get more than $400 million as part of the settlement, with more than 70% going to counties and municipalities, Attorney General Josh Kaul said. The rest will go to DHS.

“These funds have an opportunity to transform the response to the opioid epidemic and finally to turn the corner in this fight,” Kaul said. “It’s critical, though, that those funds get to our communities as soon as possible.”

RELATED: Wisconsin receives first payment from national opioid settlement

The state expects to receive nearly $31 million over the rest of this year, Timberlake said. Last week, the state received its first $6 million payment under the settlement.