Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Friday, June 12, 2015

Students outline policy options to address opioid addiction

Ben KopitzkeBen Kopitzke

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The report “Opioid Addiction Treatment in Wisconsin: An Assessment of Need and Options for Expanding Access” is available online.

Legislators now have five concrete policy options to consider for improving Wisconsin residents’ access to treatment for addiction to heroin, oxycodone, and other opioids.

La Follette School students made the recommendations to the Wisconsin Legislative Council as part of the spring Workshop in Public Affairs taught by J. Michael Collins.

“Drug abuse is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States,” says Ben Kopitzke, one of the authors. “In Wisconsin alone, opioid-related deaths nearly doubled from 2005 to 2012.”

“Given the harm imposed on families and communities by opioid addiction, this issue is critical for policymakers to better understand,” Collins says. “This report summarizes current treatment access using public and administrative data and then uses this analysis to inform a range of policy options for expanding access to treatment.”

“The report is valuable because it is much more in-depth and detailed than we would typically have time to produce in our office,” notes Mary Matthias, a principal attorney with the Wisconsin Legislative Council. “It synthesizes a large volume of important information collected by the students and presents it in a very useable and succinct form. It also provides a detailed and multi-factored analysis of policy options for increasing access to opioid addiction treatment throughout the state.”

The report notes that the federal government recommends medication-assisted therapy for opioid addiction treatment. To help Wisconsin residents take advantage of such treatment, the state can create comprehensive care facilities where the full spectrum of medication-assisted therapy can be offered, reduce Wisconsin-specific regulations for opioid treatment programs that utilize methadone, increase the number of physicians prescribing buprenorphine, expand collaborative treatment programs, and collect additional data to better inform policy decisions.

“The five policy alternatives are not mutually exclusive,” notes Kopitzke, who co-authored the report with Karole Dachelet, Drake Daily, Hannah Vogel and Tyrel Zich. “This flexibility allows for policymaker discretion to determine the best approach for addressing opioid addiction treatment needs and services for Wisconsinites. Any combination of the alternatives could be adopted without decreasing the effectiveness of any single alternative.”

The Legislative Council will use the report to provide information to legislators and their staff, as well as to the general public, about the different models of opioid addiction treatment, the availability of treatment in Wisconsin, and possible methods to improve the quality and availability of treatment in Wisconsin.

“It is possible that legislators will use the report directly to develop one or more pieces of legislation to modify state laws regulating opioid addiction treatment programs and providers,” says Melissa Schmidt, Wisconsin Legislative Council senior staff attorney and 2006 La Follette School alum who worked with the students. “The students’ recommendations provide a baseline policymakers can use to assess opioid addiction treatment policy options. The recommendations serve as a resource tool for use in determining effective and efficient opioid addiction treatment service options that will benefit Wisconsinites struggling with a lifelong disease.”