JANESVILLE — Many of the local warriors fighting heroin and opioid addiction sat in the same room Thursday. They had come to discuss the problem with a man who could help them redouble their efforts, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Ryan met with medical, social services, police and fire services representatives. They assembled in a room on the Mercyhealth campus. “We in Congress have recognized that this is a pretty serious epidemic in America that needs to be addressed,” Ryan said.
Congress has passed bills over the past year that are funneling money to local governments to help with the overdoses and deaths from heroin and other opioids. Most of the meeting was closed to the news media. Ryan said that was so the officials could have a conversation. Ryan took no questions from reporters.
“It was good talking to Paul today. He seems to care,” Bob Kerman, the father of a recovering addict, said afterward. Kerman told Ryan most people who need help with addiction can’t get it because they can’t afford it.
Several participants told Ryan about the high costs of care and medications. Ryan mentioned recent legislation that is channeling money to communities such as Janesville. “My hope is that we can see costs decline. Suboxone costs $800 or $900 a month. Vivitrol costs $1,500 a month. Methadone costs less than $100 a month. Then again, Methadone has its own set of risks,” said Dr. David Murdy of SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville, after the meeting.
Participants welcomed Ryan’s approach. “He was well informed. He understands the tragic nature of it, and he’s supporting funding to take care of our citizens,“ Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore said after the meeting.
But is it enough funding?
Rock County Human Services just received a $124,000 grant–federal money funneled through the state–to help addicts get drugs such as Suboxone and counseling to help wean them off heroin. The money will help cut the time an addict needs to wait for treatment, officials have said.
“The wait time for individuals with drug addiction is far too long. We need to improve that,” said Dr. Jay MacNeal, medical director of Mercyhealth Prehospital and Emergency Services Center. The county had applied for about $500,000, so while the money is welcome, more is needed, said Brenda Endtoff, drugs of abuse coordinator for Rock County Human Services.
Endtoff said she didn’t tell Ryan she needs more money, but: “It was nice to hear that in Washington, they’re talking about the stuff we’re concerned about here,” Endtoff said. “It was nice to hear Paul say that he wants to hear straight from the communities that are struggling with this so he can go back to Washington and report … so they can come back with more funds or something like that.”
Chief Deputy Barb Tillman of the Rock County Sheriff’s Office told Ryan that deputies encounter overdoses all the time, and they are equipped with the opioid antidote naloxone. “Unfortunately, we can’t keep it in stock, we use it so frequently,” she said. The cost for a dose has increased from $12 to $30, Tillman said, and that can put the life-saving drug out of reach for addicts or for the loved ones of addicts who want to keep it on hand.
Ryan told her about grants for naloxone through the 2016 law called Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act that might help the sheriff’s office, Tillman said, and she will be looking into that. Participants interviewed seemed to agree they are addressing a crisis. Moore said the 12 overdose deaths in Janesville last year would have caused public outcry if they had been murders or traffic deaths.
“Quite honestly, there’s nothing that needs to be done first. It all needs to be done at the same time,” MacNeal said. “There’s no one solution to any of this, it’s a very complicated set of problems, and it needs to be treated in multiple parallel tracks including prevention, limiting prescriptions, patients understanding they may have to endure some pain to avoid the risk of addiction, reevaluating our patient-satisfaction scores and how those affect reimbursement, the treatment programs, the medication-assisted treatment programs with Suboxone and counseling.”
Moore asked Ryan to consider funding a program invented by Janesville police, called Death, Rehab or Prison, or DROP.
The one Janesville officer assigned to the DROP program is available 24/7 to addicts in crisis. Officer Chad Woodman puts the addicts in touch with recovering addicts and tries to get them into treatment. The program has seen some success, and Moore suggested it could be a model for the nation.
Moore said people are now acknowledging a problem that’s been around for years, and because of that, government is responding by funding solutions, and the medical community is changing its ways so opioid drugs are less available for abuse. “Personally, I have great hope for the future. I think in five years we will be in better shape,” Moore added.
Most of those at the table have met together as part of the local heroin task force. Endtoff said it was good to discuss the problem with local medical providers, as well.
“I think we’re ahead of the game compared to a lot of communities,” Murdy said. “This doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole lot more that can be done.”