MILWAUKEE — County executives from Milwaukee to Waukesha and beyond stood by Gov. Tony Evers as he spoke about a new law that will send money from a major opioid lawsuit to communities across the state.
"The unfortunate truth in our state is that far too many Wisconsinites have seen and experienced tragedy opioids can cause firsthand," Gov. Evers said.
There have been 186 opioid-related deaths in Milwaukee County so far this year and 12 in Waukesha County. Milwaukee County's Medical Examiner's Office reported in 2020 were 463 opioid-related deaths, and 343 in 2019.
Waukesha County reported 63 opioid-related deaths year-to-date for 2020, noting there are still open cases. In 2019, Waukesha County had 48 people die from opiates.
County officials and addiction recovery professionals noted the pandemic stressed the challenges in fighting addiction, both for people and local governments.
"Battling the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid epidemic has caused a strain on local budgets that cannot be understated," said Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley.
"It's not a cure for the opioid epidemic, but it's going to help us continue to move forward to saving the lives of individuals and changing their families forever," Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow said.
Hector Colon, president and CEO of Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, has hope the money comes soon, noting an urgent need to help people who are struggling with addiction. Their facility in Waukesha helps people with recovery.
Colon noted one area that needs the extra resources.
"Really aftercare. So once individuals are here, they might be here for 90 days or six months and many of them feel empowered. They feel strengthened, but it's really those aftercare services [that] follow that individual for a period of time, make sure that they can continue on the path to recovery. I think it’s really needed in our system," Colon said.
Gov. Evers signed the bill into law last week despite a provision he calls troubling. That piece gives the legislature authority to approve any settlement that's reached in this case. Evers said despite that issue, he did not want to take away any chance Wisconsin wouldn't get the settlement money.