Pubdate: Thu, 28 Apr 2016
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI)
Copyright: 2016 Journal Sentinel Inc.
Authors: Robert Kraig and Erik Kirkstein
Note: Robert Kraig is the executive director of Citizen Action of 
Wisconsin. Erik Kirkstein is health care coordinator of Healthy Youth 
Bright Futures, a statewide coalition working to prevent substance 
use disorders among youths and young adults.


In modern medicine, it is only common sense that an ounce of 
prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is well understood by 
patients and doctors alike that it is much more effective and cheaper 
to prevent a disease, or catch it in its early stages, than to treat 
it once it has become a serious health risk.

Although there is now an overwhelming expert consensus that drug and 
alcohol addiction are medical conditions, just like breast cancer or 
diabetes, our approach to prevention has not caught up to the medical science.

Wisconsin's response to the spread of heroin and opioid addiction is 
a case in point. Newspaper headlines and the state Department of 
Justice call the heroin and opioid crisis an "epidemic." As addiction 
is a medical condition, not an individual moral failing, this is 
appropriate. Despite this recognition in language, we have not 
responded the way we would if there were a serious disease sweeping 
the state. If there was an epidemic of flu or malaria, or any other 
life-threatening disease, our public health system would take 
dramatic action to prevent it from spreading.

Wisconsin's H.O.P.E. (Heroin, Opiate, Prevention and Education) 
legislation, passed in the state Legislature in several stages, has 
taken aim at addiction on a number of levels: expanded treatment and 
diversion programs, tighter monitoring of opioid prescriptions and 
arming more first responders with naloxone, a promising drug that can 
counteract an opiate overdose. The H.O.P.E. initiatives, which were 
approved by overwhelming margins, show bipartisan agreement that 
state government has a vital role to play.

What's missing from the initial response of state government to the 
spread of heroin and opioid addiction is a proactive approach to 
prevention that is up to the scale of the problem.

Large-scale prevention must start with Wisconsin's teenagers and 
young adults. It's well-established that substance use disorders 
begin during adolescent years. Research shows that nine in 10 
Americans who meet the medical criteria for addiction as adults 
started using risky addictive substances before age 18.

Thanks to short-term grant funding, a handful of Wisconsin high 
schools are making early prevention a priority. These resources give 
each school the opportunity to partner with a local health service 
provider to offer SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral to 
Treatment) to all students in at least one grade level.

Unlike invasive and ineffective drug testing, SBIRT is an 
evidence-based approach to identifying potential risky use early. 
Students begin by completing a confidential questionnaire regarding 
substance use. If a student shows signs of risky or dangerous levels 
of substance use, the program will work with the young person to get 
him or her back on a healthy path by providing the young person with 
brief counseling with a trained adult, or in rare cases, refer the 
person to treatment.

SBIRT helps prevent all kinds of substance addictions, including 
alcohol, heroin and opioid abuse, and other drug addictions. If we're 
going to bring early prevention programs such as SBIRT up to the 
scale needed to fight this epidemic, lawmakers must act boldly. 
Making prevention a priority means allocating the funds necessary so 
every high school has the resources to implement robust prevention programs.

It's time for Wisconsin to get out ahead of the crisis and ensure 
that more young people in the state have the opportunity to reach 
their full potential and realize the American dream. It is important 
for voters to talk to candidates about the need for funding drug and 
alcohol prevention in Wisconsin's schools during the elections. This 
is the best way to ensure that the Legislature will take bold and 
bipartisan action in the next state budget.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom