The plan is the latest approach to the county’s fight against the ongoing opioid crisis, which has cost taxpayers millions to date

By Shereen Siewert

WAUSAU — Members of the Marathon County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will consider a plan to form a task force to oversee the county’s drug addiction and opioid abuse services.

The task force is the latest tool in the fight against the ongoing opioid crisis in Marathon County, where millions have been spent combating the epidemic. And that, county leaders say, has a direct impact on local taxpayers.

The Marathon County Jail, built to house 278 inmates, has been averaging 420 per day in 2017. Even more have been sent to neighboring county jails — to the tune of $1.2 million per year. On top of drug possession charges, addicts often resort to burglary and theft to fund drug habits. And by late October, Marathon County’s costs for out-of-home placement services for children of addicted parents in 2017 was already $456,000 over 2016’s entire year budget.

More than 100 counties to date are suing to recover the costs they have borne in treating or jailing residents addicted to opioid-based painkillers, heroin or fentanyl, due in large part to marketing by several drug companies that obscured how addictive the drugs could be. In all, 29 Wisconsin counties filed lawsuits Nov. 7. Three state associations of counties so far are taking lead roles in coordinating action.

In October, the Marathon County Board voted 30-3 to join the lawsuit. About 60 counties are expected to participate.

At the same time, several state attorneys general have filed suit on behalf of their states. Mark O’Connell, executive director of the Wisconsin Counties Association, said that while that may seem duplicative, a 1998 $206 billion tobacco settlement slighted local governments.

“We wish the states well in their efforts, but we as counties have our own costs, our own challenges, our own damages,” he said.

The Wisconsin suit targets Purdue, Teva, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen and Endo, among others, along with a handful of doctors. For Wisconsin counties, damages could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The proposal calls for the county’s health officer to chair the task force. Additional members will be appointed from the health and human services committee, the public safety committee, the North Central Community Services program board and the evidence-based decision making group, joined by a member of the medical community and a community member with a personal or family experience with drug addiction.

If the board approves the task force this week, members would begin serving a one-year term in January.