By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
In recent years, Milwaukee has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of opioid-related deaths. Of those who died, many struggled with addiction for years. While the obvious solution would be treatment at a rehab or detox center, the fact of the matter remains: rehab is not always an affordable option.
Earlier this week, Mayor Tom Barrett called on state officials to help. He asked that they expand Medicaid to help opioid users. This epidemic is not limited to one race, economic class or culture, he said. It is not an urban issue, suburban issue but a state issue, Barrett added.
Barrett explained that in Dayton, Ohio there was a similar situation to that of Milwaukee. However, with assistance from Medicaid, it saw a decrease in opioid-related deaths. According to Barrett, Gov. Walker and his legislature essentially refused to accept Medicaid dollars. Instead, Medicaid was expanded through Badger Care, which used state dollars.
The legislative fiscal bureau reported that because the state’s legislature refused the Medicaid expansion, it refused over a billion dollars in federal aid.
“These are dollars that could be used for and should be used to reduce drug addiction in our state,” Barrett said.
This affected the state fiscally, but it also created problems for those living in poverty. Barrett explained that only certain people were marked eligible for Badger Care, despite the fact that there are still people essentially living in poverty.
Often, these people, the ones in and out of poverty, usually need the most help, Barrett said.
According to Barrett, Governor-elect Tony Evers would like to accept federal aid. However, given the current events and actions that took place during Wisconsin’s lame-duck session, Evers would not be the only one involved in the decision. The state legislature would also play a role.
“People have to understand,” Barrett said. “You might have political reasons for not liking this, but this has real-world impact.”
This could change the lives of people in the community, county and state who are dealing with an opioid addiction. Barrett said the issue is if these federal dollars are refused fewer people will receive treatment.
“The other reality is, by rejecting these federal dollars fewer people are getting the treatment that they could get either under Badger Care or under Medicaid,” Barrett said.
“That’s what we want to see change,” he added. The community should desire to reduce the number of deaths, Barrett said. Fentanyl, heroin and opioids are some of the leading causes of deaths in Wisconsin.
More resources mean more treatment which could reduce the number of deaths, he said.
According to Alderman Michael Murphy of the 10th District, last year in Milwaukee County over 400 people died.
“They were overdose deaths,” Murphy said. “That’s more than homicides and car accidents combined.”
These deaths could have been prevented. Treatment can be made an affordable option with the federal aid. When people are ready to seek help, they deserve to receive help, Murphy said.
“These are real lives,” Murphy said. “A lot of times they’re just looking for help.”