By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Over recent years, the use of opioids in Milwaukee has become a city-wide crisis. With the number of overdoses and deaths on the rise due to the use of narcotics, Ascension Wisconsin will be implementing a pilot program to combat the issue.
Last month, Ascension Wisconsin announced at the City-County Heroin, Opioid and Cocaine Task Force’s community engagement session that they received a $75,000 grant which will help them place recovery coaches in emergency departments at Ascension St. Joseph’s, Ascension Franklin and Ascension St. Francis. It aims at individuals who have opioid use disorder, which can be caused by taking opioids.
The “overuse” of opioids began in the 1990’s when pain relief medication was released to the public as a longer acting solution to those with chronic pain. At the time of its release, little research had been conducted on the long-term effects of opioids, and pharmaceutical companies gave misinformation about the benefits and risks.
As the use of opioids continued, further research discovered that the overuse of opioids could lead to opioid addiction. As doctors began prescribing fewer opioids, patients struggling with addiction began to turn to other drugs such as heroin, while others bought opioids illegally.
Through this new program, Ascension Wisconsin hopes to aid in the treatment and recovery of those suffering from opioid addiction.
According to the press release, the grant was funded by Wisconsin Voices for Recovery and awarded through the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Dr. Julie Doniere, an emergency medicine physician said, “Some of the most vulnerable people we care for are those afflicted with addiction—and they need our help.”
Through the program, recovery coaches would be alerted within the hour of individuals who’ve arrived in the emergency room due to an overdose. Once the patient is coherent, coaches will reach out and discuss treatment options including peer support, counsel them and follow up throughout the recovery process.
Recovery coaches will be on call 24 hours a day but will only talk if the patient agrees to it.
“The ultimate goal of the program is to create sustainable peer support models across the state,” the press release stated.
Ascension Wisconsin applied for the grant, when they realized its patients with opioid problems or opioid use disorder as they call it needed additional help after their release from the hospital.
Various groups and departments within Ascension Wisconsin including Emergency Department (ED) physicians with Emergency Medicine Specialists, Ascension leaders such as Kevin Kluesner and Linda Puccini, Ascension Wisconsin Philanthropy, nursing leadership, and social workers are working together to incorporate this new program.
In addition to this program, Ascension Wisconsin has teams dedicated to helping individuals overcome opioid addiction. Help ranges from community education to standardizing pain assessment tools and pain management guidelines.
The community can play a role in combating opioid overuse by educating themselves on the proper use of opioids, the symptoms of addiction and mental health, and learning how to administrate naloxone (Narcan).
According to Ascension Wisconsin physicians, individuals taking opioids are encouraged to reach out to their primary physician regarding their opioid intake, alternative solutions, and opioid use disorder.
Above all, patients should never share their medication.
Ascension Wisconsin hopes to implement the pilot program this summer. With their efforts and those of the community, Milwaukee’s opioid epidemic is well on its way to being eradicated.
“We hope implementing this new recovery coach program in our EDs will help our friends, families and neighbors who are affected by the devastating toll of opioid dependence,” said Doniere.