Governor Walker Calls Special Session to Combat Opioid Epidemic

On Thursday, Governor Scott Walker called a special session of the legislature to address the ongoing opioid crisis in the state. “This is a public health crisis, and that’s why I’m calling a special session of the Legislature and directing state agencies to ramp up the state’s response,” Walker said.

Specifically, the governor asked the legislature to consider proposals developed by the Governor’s Task Force on Opioid Abuse. The task force, chaired by Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and Representative John Nygren (R – Marinette) and made up of healthcare and law enforcement professionals, met multiple times over the last few months in locations around the state. Some proposals to be considered in the special session include:

  • Giving school nurses legal immunity if they administer naloxone, an anti-overdose drug.
  • Providing some immunity for individuals who overdose in an effort to not discourage people with them from calling 911 for fear of prosecution.
  • Requiring prescriptions for cough syrups containing codeine, which is an opioid.
  • Permitting the UW System to create addiction recovery charter high schools, which combine traditional schooling with substance abuse treatment.

Additionally, Walker directed a number of state agencies to assist in combating the epidemic. For example, Walker ordered the Department of Corrections to more proactively recognize and treat drug abusers during both prison sentences and after release, and he directed the Department of Veterans Affairs to take action in protecting against overprescribing opioids in veterans’ homes.

Nygren, who’s authored a number of bills addressing opiate and opioid abuse over the past few legislative sessions, told reporters, “This is a priority for us as a state, as probably our first initiative right out of the gate in 2017.”

The special session bills have bipartisan support. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D – Kenosha) said, “…the opioid epidemic in our state is a very serious issues that requires a very aggressive response.” He went on to say, “The urgency of this special session is warranted, and I hope Gov. Walker takes the same approach to other incredibly significant issues facing Wisconsin families right now.”