Opioid bill looks to reframe addiction as a health problem, not a crime

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than 45 people are dying from drug overdoses every day in this country, most from heroin and prescription opioid painkillers.

Now, the White House wants the US Senate to approve more than a billion dollars in emergency funding to address addiction as more of a health problem, instead of a crime.

The Eau Claire City-County Health Department says while the problem may be clear, the way the federal government will battle America’s opioid epidemic isn’t.

“There are lots of ways to address it, we can't ignore that people are addicted, and we need to deal with that,” said health director Lieske Giese.

Congressional committees have been working to finalize funding that would go toward addiction treatments, stronger prescription drug monitoring, and research on opioid and heroin overdoses.

“We really don't have strong systems in place across every community in the state and federal dollars would really help support that,” added Giese.

The White House has asked for $1.1 billion to expand treatment; including expanding the kinds of people who may prescribe medications for addictions.

Giese expanded, “We are recognizing it as an addiction. At the federal level they’re putting some funding, although it's a small amount compared to the need, to really starting treating this differently. Not as a crime but a health issues and those are good steps forward.

However, Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer says he's not sold on the legislation.

“One thing I ask is, are we getting to the root of the problem? I don't believe this gets to the root of the problem,” said Cramer.

Cramer prefers to see more preventative measures versus what he says may be simply enabling addictions through methods like increased Narcan distribution.

“If we're going to keep giving out the Narcan from a safety standpoint, so they don't kill themselves, then we're just enabling them more and more,” he added.

While the health department says it would also like to see more preventative measures it says it's good to continue the conversation.

“Being able to step back, having some federal funding and some state funding, to look at how we could make a difference is critically important,” Giese said.

Under the President's budget proposal Wisconsin would be eligible for up to $13-million over two years to expand access to treatment for opioid abuse.

The Senate is now set to vote on the bill.