By U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin
Earlier this year, I decided to tell a very personal story that I hadn’t shared with many people before.
I often talk about being raised by my grandparents, especially during discussions in Milwaukee about the importance of strengthening Social Security or Medicare, supporting family caregivers or bringing down skyrocketing prescription drug prices. But what I probably didn’t tell you is why I was raised by them.
They took care of me because my mother struggled with mental illness and addiction to prescription drugs.
This isn’t an easy story for me to tell. You have to grow up fast when a parent is struggling with addiction.
I was inspired by the countless brave Wisconsinites who are speaking out and sharing their own stories as we combat the addiction crisis together. When I opened up about my own personal story, I was joined by a young woman from Milwaukee, a mother of four, who shared about her father’s struggles with alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness.
I’ve held dozens of roundtables on fighting the addiction epidemic across Wisconsin. During these discussions, health care providers tell me about the need for federal resources, and law enforcement officials share the challenges they face as the price of naloxone continues to skyrocket.
But the most powerful moments are when Wisconsinites who’ve been personally affected by this epidemic tell me about the pain and tragedy they’ve faced.
I’ve met with mothers who’ve lost their children to opioid and heroin overdoses. I’ve heard from young women who are in recovery.
They shared their stories because they knew that it would not only help them cope with their pain, but it could help so many others in Wisconsin join us in raising awareness and breaking down barriers.
Each Wisconsinite I talk to about the need to combat addiction tells me about the power of sharing our stories and confronting the stigma of addiction and mental illness head-on.
Whether your family or community has been touched by the opioid and heroin crisis, meth addiction or alcoholism, I want you to know that you are not alone. Sharing our stories will break down these walls, bring us closer together as a state and help all of us take on this incredible challenge.
What good do we do if we all keep our own little secrets?
I remember getting home from school and knocking on the door, but nobody would answer. I knew my mother was inside, but she wouldn’t or couldn’t come to the door. I may not have known exactly what was happening, but I knew it wasn’t quite right.
As a child standing in front of a locked door I couldn’t help but feel powerless. And that’s true for so many other Wisconsinites who have watched a loved one battle addiction.
It’s feels like you’re on one side offering help, and they’re locked away, convinced they’re fighting this monster on their own. You want to tear the door down and just fix it.
In the months since I’ve shared my story, I’ve received a deluge of letters and messages from Wisconsinites telling stories just like mine. Some tell me about their personal struggle with addiction.
Some share that their family has a story similar to mine. And some don’t say much other than to express thanks for knowing that they are not alone in this fight.
These brave Wisconsinites are struggling and looking for help, and it’s clear to me that Washington needs to step up and be a stronger partner for local communities fighting this epidemic.
I have worked with Republicans and Democrats to pass legislation that provides Wisconsin health officials and law enforcement with more resources for local prevention, treatment and recovery efforts, but we must do more.
As a member of the Senate Health Committee, I worked to pass the bipartisan Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 through committee to expand and extend a state grant program. I’ve worked to provide states with more flexibility so they can put their resources to work addressing the meth problem in our state. And my bipartisan legislation to help stop the flow of illicit drugs like fentanyl, meth and illegal opioids across our borders is moving forward.
But combating the addiction crisis is not just a legislative fight, this is something that happens every day in homes across the state and we need to make sure families in Milwaukee have the support they need today.
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, there are resources available in Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin to help you.
Go to www.wisconsin-opioid-resources.com to learn how to identify and respond to an overdose, as well as find a recovery and treatment center. These vital tools and information can mean life-or-death in the moment and can change lives for the future.
I hope that together we can continue this conversation, break down the stigma surrounding addiction and make a difference for every Milwaukee family and community confronted by the addiction crisis.