Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Announces Opioid Abuse Task Force

By McCarton Ackerman 09/26/16

Walker made the announcement outside of a Walgreens to help promote the drug take-back boxes set up at 18 locations across the state.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Announces Opioid Abuse Task Force

In response to the growing opioid crisis throughout Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker has announced the assembly of a task force to address the issue.

At a Walgreens store in Milwaukee last Thursday, Walker signed an executive order setting up the panel, led by Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Rep. John Nygren. Nygren, who introduced legislation to fight heroin and opiate abuse known as the HOPE Agenda (Heroin Opiate Prevention and Education), is particularly tied to the cause after watching his daughter battle heroin addiction. 

Madison.com reported that the task force has been assigned to make recommendations on how to fight opioid abuse throughout the state. Others on the panel include include Attorney General Brad Schimel, law enforcement officials, health officials, legislators and state citizens.

Data from the state Department of Health Services show that 622 of the 843 drug overdose deaths throughout Wisconsin in 2014 were from opioids. In addition, 266 of the opioid deaths were from heroin. Overdose deaths throughout Wisconsin have doubled between 2004 to 2014, according to Madison.com.

Walker chose to announce the task force at Walgreens to help promote the drug take-back boxes set up at 18 of its stores around the state. The pharmacy chain also recently expanded access to the overdose antidote naloxone by making it available without a prescription in all of its Wisconsin stores.

"The more drugs we get out of people's home and into places like this, the safer we're all going to be," said Walker. "Even if you're coming in for a soda and a bag of chips, it's easy to drop it off."

The governor's approach to addressing drug use this time around is far more palatable than the more recent attempts he’s made. Last year, the former presidential candidate sued the federal government in order to drug test food stamp recipients and people applying for unemployment benefits. Because recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can’t be drug tested, but Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients can, Walker attempted to have both recipients eligible for drug testing if there was “reasonable suspicion” of drug use.

However, state statistics show the majority of food stamp recipients in Wisconsin are families with children, the elderly and the disabled. More importantly, current laws won’t allow it.

“Requiring SNAP applicants and recipients to pass a drug test in order to receive benefits would constitute an additional condition of eligibility, and therefore, is not allowable under law," said the USDA in 2014 regarding a separate case in Georgia, where the governor also tried to drug test food stamp applicants.

Last year, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Huffington Post that “Gov. Walker hasn’t read the law. It’s always a good idea before you start litigation to understand what the law is."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.