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Petryk column: Legislature continues efforts to address drug abuse in Wisconsin

Warren Petryk

Since being elected, I've had numerous meetings with families, law enforcement and public health officials about the devastating impact substance abuse is having on our neighbors and communities. Everyone has had the same message: that drug addiction isn't something that just affects people in big cities, but it's now more than ever a sad reality in our small-towns and rural communities. That is why I'm honored to be a part of a new Assembly Committee on Substance Abuse and Prevention.

This new committee will continue the legislature's progress over the last few sessions to help combat the drug abuse problem in Wisconsin. The committee will be tasked with studying and working on legislation to address this complex and very serious issue.

One of the most critical areas I look forward to addressing is the overuse of prescription medication, which can be a gateway into abusing other dangerous substances, such as methamphetamine or heroin. Between 2010 and 2017, meth use increased in Wisconsin by 462 percent. In fact, out of 396 heroin overdose patients, 363 had been prescribed opioids.

During an upcoming committee meeting we will listen to experts about what they are seeing on the front lines. This includes hearing from a county crisis coordinator, the Director of Opioid Initiatives from the Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services, a medical information company, and from a non-profit working to raise awareness of this important issue.

As chairman of the Assembly Workforce Development Committee, I am also interested in the effects that substance abuse has on employment outcomes. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, which works with counties to track the outcomes of individuals with substance abuse, 25 percent of them are not participating in the labor force at all. An additional 16 percent are currently unemployed. The data also shows that a large percentage of those who are not in the labor force continue to remain on the labor market sidelines. With a workforce shortage hitting the state, the challenge resulting from drug abuse is an area where I know we can work together to get people the help they need and help move them into finding fulfilling and gainful employment.