There’s new hope for those coping with opioid addiction in Wisconsin, thanks to a one-year, $1.4 million grant awarded to Wisconsin Voices for Recovery—a statewide peer-run network housed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies.

The grant is part of $12 million in federal funding awarded to the state of Wisconsin through the federal State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis Grant. The state Department of Health Services chose to work with Wisconsin Voices for Recovery because of its expertise in the field of behavioral health, outreach to individuals, and extensive network of organizations supporting recovery across the state.

Following recommendations from the Governor’s Task Force on Opioid Abuse, Wisconsin Voices for Recovery will create a “recovery coaching” model around the state. Unique in the nation, this model will employ a network of recovery coaches in emergency department settings who will aid those struggling with opioids.

Wisconsin Voices for Recovery rallies at the state Capitol.

“The goal is to expand access to treatment and recovery support services, cut back on emergency department recidivism, and reduce opioid-related overdose deaths,” says Caroline Miller, director of Wisconsin Voices for Recovery. “We will engage directly with communities and community organizations by providing seed grants to begin this important work.”

Turning the numbers around

Caroline Miller: ‘This is an amazing opportunity to save lives.’ (Photo by David Giroux)

Key to the effort is education. The project will leverage UW Continuing Studies’ expertise to create online training materials and other resources for recovery coaches, health-care providers, and community organizations.

Since the early 2000s, Wisconsin has experienced a surge in opioid abuse, with the overdose rate increasing more than fivefold. Over the last decade alone, the number of opioid-related deaths in Wisconsin has nearly doubled. According to a 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state’s rate of drug and opioid overdose deaths per 100,000 population exceeds the national average.

With the new grant, Wisconsin Voices for Recovery hopes to turn those numbers around.

“We will reach as many parts of state as we can, targeting areas of greatest need,” says Miller. “This is an amazing opportunity to save lives.”