We all need a dose of reality
The DOSE OF REALITY campaign we announced this week may be one of the most important things I will do as Attorney General, because I believe this will save lives.
In particular, it will save lives of our young people. There has been a 260% increase in opiate overdose deaths among 12- to 24-year olds in recent years and we have seen overall opiate overdose deaths quadruple. If we saw traffic deaths quadruple, we would do things that sound crazy, like putting a roundabout every 200 feet or raising the driving age to 25.
What are we prepared to do about this problem?
The DOSE OF REALITY campaign is designed to take this epidemic head-on. We call it a “dose of reality” because, frankly, we all need one.
As I’ve traveled the state, I have found that most Wisconsinites know little about this epidemic, and that includes many in the medical community.
Some of our biggest challenges are the myths.
People don’t pay attention until too late, because they believe that this is just affects the “bad kids.” They believe they are safe because it is “not in my neighborhood” or “not my child.”
Here is the dose of reality:
These drugs are affecting young people from all walks of life: athletes, student leaders, kids with high grade point averages. So many promising futures destroyed.
The most sobering dose of reality:
None of us can safely hide behind the myth that this just happens to the “bad kids.”
I have met hundreds of parents who have buried their children due to opiate overdoses, and not one of them thought for a moment that their child was the “bad kid.”
Can you handle more reality?
This is not an urban problem—affecting every community in Wisconsin, rural, suburban and urban. There has, rightly, been a great deal of concern about heroin abuse in our state.
But here is another dose of reality:
Prescription opioid painkillers play a role in more deaths than heroin, cocaine and all other drugs combined. Even more shocking: Nearly four out of five heroin addicts started by first becoming addicted to prescription opiates. Without the abuse of prescription painkillers, we probably would not be talking about heroin at all.
I hope this information is shocking to people. This campaign is intended to shock. That is why the DOSE OF REALITY campaign uses image of the skull and crossbones on a prescription bottle. I want to make clear, though, that you will not see that symbol without the message that this is about preventing prescription painkiller abuse. There are legitimate and responsible uses of prescription painkillers. This campaign address prevention of abuse.
Here is another myth: People who abuse painkillers get them from their doctor.
While that is sometimes true, here is the dose of reality: 70% who abuse painkillers get them improperly from a friend or family member.
This campaign is solely about awareness and prevention of painkiller abuse.
Our partners from the Wisconsin Hospitals Association, the Wisconsin Pharmacy Society, the Wisconsin Dental Association, the Wisconsin Medical Society and Medical Society of Milwaukee County, among others, have been with us all along the way developing the important prevention and awareness messages.
In law enforcement, we first started seeing heroin pop up in our communities about a decade ago. We first approached it as a public safety crisis. It certainly is a public safety crisis. Beyond just the deaths and destruction caused by this addiction, it is also driving dramatic spikes in virtually every other type of crime, such as theft, burglary, robbery, identity theft, prostitution and even often is linked to human trafficking. In fact, Wisconsin is now No. 2 in pharmacy robberies – in the country - with more than New York or California.
If you told me 15 years ago that it would become relatively common for an addict to walk into a pharmacy, point a gun at the pharmacist and demand prescription painkillers, I would have said you were crazy. The odds of getting away with that crime are very slim. But opiate addicts are not making rational decisions. That is why we found in Waukesha County that our participants in the drug treatment court had, on average, been brought back to life by Narcan seven times
We quickly found that it is not just a public safety crisis, but is a full blown public health crisis. You cannot arrest your way out of a public health crisis. We are by no means abandoning our law enforcement efforts. In fact, we are ramping them up. But enforcement alone is not the solution.
Drug treatment is another critical part of addressing our opiate epidemic. It is estimated that over 163,000 people abuse opiates of some kind in Wisconsin. However, our treatment capacity in the state is only capable of addressing a small percentage of that need. The only way we have a chance to beat this public health crisis is if enforcement and treatment efforts are combined with enormous prevention efforts
It’s going to take all of us, working together, to bring this epidemic under control.
I hope everyone in our state will see the DOSE OF REALITY campaign, be it on TV, radio, print media, outdoor and other advertising venues
More important, I hope that the campaign will inspire them to talk about the message, ask questions and make sure that they are using, storing and disposing of painkillers properly. None of us would leave a loaded handgun unattended on the counter in our kitchen with teens coming in and out, but how many think twice about leaving prescription painkillers in the medicine cabinet.
The dose of reality: those painkillers are responsible for many more accidental deaths than handguns.
We have many doses of reality to share, and I am grateful to be in a position with our team at DOJ and in the community, to be able to spread the word across our state.