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Behavior health on increase during COVID-19

COVID-19 has impacted the health and safety of Wisconsinites in many ways, and the stress stemming from the pandemic and the uncertainty it has caused, can prove extremely difficult for individuals, especially residents of Wisconsin who struggle with substance use disorder, or another underlying behavioral health condition.

“We know that challenges like fear of COVID- 19, financial pressures and isolation, are the kinds of stressors that exacerbate behavioral health and substance use disorders,” said Department of Health Services (DHS) secretarydesignee Andrea Palm. “And that is why it is so important to ask for help if you need it. Help is available and we urge anyone struggling to reach out.”

Preliminary numbers show that suspected opioid overdoses have increased 117 percent since the start of the pandemic in Wisconsin, compared to the same time in 2019. Data from emergency departments in Wisconsin, show there were 325 suspected opioid overdoses from March to July 13, compared to 150 suspected overdoses during the same time in 2019.

“COVID-19 hit our state, just as we were making strides in reducing the number of deaths from opioids, but the signs of increasing substance abuse aren’t limited to opioids,” said Paul Krupski, director of Opioid Initiatives at DHS.

The DHS has worked with the governor’s offi ce, other state agencies, and public and private stakeholders, to address the state’s opioid epidemic. Over the past six years, the DHS has awarded millions of dollars in grants to local and tribal health agencies, and community coalitions, to address opioid misuse on a local level.

Additionally, the DHS, and the Department of Safety and Professional Standards (DSPS), issued a statewide standing order to make naloxone available without a prescription. The agency issues public health alerts every Monday, to inform local and tribal health offices of a possible increase in opioid overdoses in their area, so they can evaluate their responses to the epidemic on a local level.

The DHS also recently announced it’s seeking applications to pilot a hub-and-spoke model of care, to treat people with substance use disorder and other healthcare needs.

Calls to 211 Wisconsin also indicate an increase in requests for information on behavioral health. Data compiled by 211 Wisconsin concerning the need or problem expressed by the caller, ranks mental health and addiction as third on the list, closely following COVID-19 and housing.

Under additional funding provided by the DHS, specialists with the Wisconsin Addiction Recovery Helpline, are now able to follow up with people who reach out for help, to ensure these individuals have made a connection to a source of support. This helpline was created by 211 Wisconsin in October of 2018, and the funding for follow-up will last through September.

“Whether someone is struggling with opioid use disorder, other harmful substance use or mental health concerns, like depression or suicidal thoughts, they should always remember, that it’s ok to ask for help” said Palm. “In fact, it’s encouraged.”

Additional resources can be found at Resilient Wisconsin, which was launched by the DHS in April, to provide information on how to handle stress and build the ability to recover from adversity.

Some of the resources include the following:

• Wisconsin Addiction Recovery Helpline, available 24/7, by calling 833-944-4673, or text zip code to 898211.

• HOPELINE text service, available 24/7 by texting HOPELINE to 741741.

• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24/7, by calling 1-800-273-8255.