Grant money to address opioid treatment in county, unmet needs remain

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - President Donald Trump has declared that he considers the opioid crisis a national emergency, and this week, the state of Wisconsin awarded $2.4 million in grants across the state to increase opioid-treatment services.

La Crosse County received $100,000, as one of 16 counties and three tribal nations in the state to receive grant money from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

While county workers are grateful to have the $100,000, their initial application was for more than $356,000.

"You know, (it’s) very difficult,” said Matt Strittmater, integrated support and recovery services manager for La Crosse County Human Services.

Strittmater was disappointed when he found out the county would be receiving less than a third of the money they requested from the state to address opioid treatment.

“(I’m) really happy to have something come in to add resources, but (it’s) really kind of difficult when we had four or five ideas."

The $100,000 will be going to two of those initial ideas, which are increased supported housing services, and the addition of peer mentors, or helpers who may have gone through drug addiction themselves and have undergone training. They can help people in jails or detox centers transition back into the community, and also help Child Protection Services work with families of those with opioid issues.

Health educator Al Bliss said while he's also appreciative of the state money, because of the scope of the problem, plenty of unmet needs remain.

“Which is really frustrating I think, because people in the public think we should be doing this. They're right, we should be doing all these things, but we need to be able to have resources,” he said.

Bliss said the heroin and illicit drugs task force hoped there would be enough money for a peer-run respite center and financial assistance for medical treatment aiding addiction such as Suboxone, which addiction physician David Onsrud says is expensive, but important in addressing the escalating problem.

"People are dying in greater numbers than they've ever died before,” he said. Onsrud is the medical director of addiction medical services at Mayo Clinic Health System.

Onsrud said a federal emergency declaration by Trump could mean more money trickling down locally.

"I would hope so,” he said. “La Crosse has a major problem."

According to Stittmater, it's not just the federal government viewing opioid dependency as an emergency.

"The state must've agreed it is for La Crosse, because whatever metric system they used to decide who could get access to these funds, La Crosse was considered one of the high need communities,” he said.

With such a large problem, it's hard to know how much money will be enough.

"I don't think there is a simple answer,” Strittmater said, adding that the state still has more money to give out. The $100,000 grant money was treatment-specific, and he’s hoping to get grants for county prevention efforts as well.

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