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Wisconsin Finance Committee Approves Opioid Bills

Bills Fund Treatment Alternatives, Including 'Recovery School' Pilot Project

Joint Finance Committee co-chair John Nygren
State Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette. Shawn Johnson/WPR

The Wisconsin Legislature’s budget committee approved seven bills Monday aimed at treating people addicted to opioids.

The bills range from one bill that would create a small charter school to help high school students recover from addiction to another that would create treatment programs in parts of Wisconsin where they don’t currently exist.

They were part of Gov. Scott Walker’s special session to combat opioid and heroin abuse. The issue has been a top priority for Joint Finance Committee Assembly co-chair John Nygren.

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“The goal of the treatment and diversion program is to take nonviolent offenders who might have an addiction problem and give them the tools, give them the services they need so they are not simply offending and recidivizing,” said Nygren, a Republican from Marinette.

The bills would:

  • Spend $2.4 million per year to support Treatment Alternative and Diversion programs. Of that total, $2 million per year would fund an expansion of the programs in the last budget; $150,000 per year would pay for grants to expand those programs to additional counties; and $261,000 would be set aside for the Joint Committee on Finance to fund a diversion pilot program.
  • Direct the Office of Educational Opportunity in the University of Wisconsin System to contract with someone to establish a “recovery charter high school” for a maximum of 15 pupils at a time, as a four-year pilot project. Health care policies that cover mental health and behavioral health treatments would have to cover services provided by the school. A $50,000 state grant would help establish the school.
  • Let the Wisconsin Department of Health Services award grants to hospitals to increase the number of physicians trained in addiction specialty. DHS could also award grants to develop an addiction specialist training program. The state would pledge $63,000 per year for the grants.
  • Require DHS to create two or three additional opioid treatment programs in underserved and high-need areas. The state would provide $1 million per year.
  • Direct DHS to create an addiction medicine consultation program to help doctors caring for patients with substance addiction. It would cost the state $500,000 per year.
  • Authorize and funds four new criminal investigation agents at the state Department of Justice to focus on drug interdiction and drug trafficking. It would cost $420,000 per year.
  • Require the state Department of Public Instruction to establish a mental health training support program to provide school district staff with training on screening, intervention and referral to treatment. It would cost $200,000 per year.

Not every special session bill was before the finance committee Monday. For example, another that would give drug users immunity from prosecution if they call for emergency help remains in the Assembly Judiciary Committee where it has yet to receive a vote.