Grants to help opioid crisis in rural counties

Waushara County Sheriff's Department on January 4, 2018 (WLUK/Mike Moon)

WAUTOMA, Wis. (WLUK) -- As the entire country and state grapple with the heroin epidemic some rural areas are struggling more than others.

However, new state grants could help some local counties in the fight.

In 2017, the opioid crisis hit Waushara County particularly hard.

"Last year we had more people die of overdoses in this county than we did from traffic crashes," explained Sheriff Jeffrey Nett who said it's clear: treatment is the best option to help those addicted.

"They're not going to be back in the criminal justice system," Nett told FOX 11 News.

However, opportunities for treatment are few and far between.

"We don't have a lot of resources here in the county and the ones we do have are overworked," Nett told us.

Family Health/La Clinica in Wautoma provides outpatient treatment, but the clinic serves several counties, and often patients need to be referred elsewhere.

"Oshkosh, Stevens Point are about a 45-minute drive. I mean, they're taking two hours sometimes to go to treatment," explained Nett.

The state Department of Health Services announced Thursday Family Health/La Clinica is going to be one of four programs in the state awarded grants to provide that treatment.

"These clinics will be serving high-need areas that have been identified through a needs assessment done by the department of health services," explained Paul Krupski, the director of opioid initiatives for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services

According to DHS, under-served counties are those with 75 percent or more of their land falling outside a treatment facility service area.

The department also looked at other criteria like number of overdose deaths in a county.

"We're required to focus on under-served and high-need areas," said Krupski.

The federal funding is about $2 million total. Family Health/La Clinica will get more than $650,000 of that to start another outpatient treatment program, likely in neighboring Adams County, to help ease the pressure in Waushara County.

"If these grants work out and we can get the programs established, I think it will benefit the criminal justice system overall," remarked Nett, saying it will also, hopefully, help the community overall.

A partnership between Fond du Lac and Dodge counties will receive a grant as well.

The other two programs will also focus on methamphetamine addiction.

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