Special promotional content provided by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services
The nationwide opioid crisis certainly hasn’t spared Wisconsin, though efforts from the state, nonprofit and private sector have made inroads.
“We’ve had a comprehensive approach to the opioid epidemic in Wisconsin” for more than eight years, Department of Health Services Policy Director Paul Krupski said. “Investing throughout the entire continuum of care… prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and also recovery efforts.”
Those efforts began to pay off after about five years of concerted efforts.
“In 2019, we saw the first statistically significant decrease in opioid related deaths in our state in nearly two decades,” Krupski said.
Then the pandemic happened, and opioid use – along with use and misuse of other drugs – went entirely the wrong direction.
Last year, as the pandemic eased and life began returning to normal – to the extent that it has – Krupski and the team at DHS added another strategy to their approach: just talk about it.
Dubbed “Real Talks Wisconsin,” the program launched in 2022 equips families and communities with the tools to engage in authentic conversations to bring opioid addiction and the issues surrounding it out from the shadows.
“The real purpose of Real Talks Wisconsin is to promote conversations on the health and safety impacts of substance use in order to really build those supportive communities where prevention works, treatment is available and recovery can happen for everyone,” Krupski said. “Substance use in Wisconsin is common but it’s often not talked about, or can get dismissed because of feelings of shame or wrongdoing. Stigma is such a big issue.”
But putting opioid use and its effects on the table as a normal, safe conversation can help undermine that stigma.
“Stigma can really prevent people from seeking the help that they want or that they need,” Krupski said. “Supportive, stigma-free environments focused on hope and healing is what we think can really be generated and be created from having real talks.”
Krupski said it’s important for families to engage in conversation about substance abuse even when there’s no one using – those conversations can be preventive.
“Everyone has a role in preventing and reducing substance use,” he said. “Knowing the facts about drugs and how they impact individuals and communities is really a first step in preventing and reducing substance use.”
The Real Talks Wisconsin website has facts about drug use as well as tips for starting and steering these important conversations – tips like:
- Ask open-ended questions
- Listen with empathy
- Problem-solve together
It can also equip you with the best vocabulary to use when discussing use and misuse – like, for example, using “use and misuse” rather than “abuse,” and “substance abuse disorder” rather than “habit.”
“Having honest, open conversations about substance use… is going to improve the environment and the health and well-being of everybody throughout Wisconsin,” Krupski said.
He said statistics are already showing improvement as the pandemic subsides, noting that preliminary 2023 data shows a leveling off of opioid overdoses and deaths, which could be a precursor to a decline.
“I truly believe that we’re on the right path… we could be able to see those positive outcomes again here in the state of Wisconsin and save more lives,” Krupski said.