'Here & Now' Highlights: Josh Kaul, Katrina Nordyke, Alex Brower

Here's what guests on the May 24, 2024 episode said about the second round of opioid lawsuit settlement dollars coming into Wisconsin, a whooping cough outbreak in Brown County and how to shore up the Social Security program.

By Frederica Freyberg | Here & Now

May 28, 2024

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Frederica Freyberg and Alex Brower sit facing each other on the Here & Now set.

Frederica Freyberg and Alex Brower. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

More than 1,700 people died of opioid overdoses in Wisconsin in 2023, which is a slight 4% decrease from the prior year. State Attorney General Josh Kaul described the scourge of fentanyl and how lawsuit settlement money is helping victims. With vaccination rates down in Wisconsin, Brown County deputy public health officer Katrina Nordyke detailed an ongoing pertussis outbreak in her region, and Alex Brower of the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans responded to steps needed to fully fund Social Security as the federal benefits program nears insolvency.

Josh Kaul
Wisconsin Attorney General (D)

  • Starting in July 2025 $36 million in opioid settlement funds for the next fiscal year will start to be dispersed to programs across the state. Wisconsin will see $750 million in total over several years that will go toward prevention programs and addiction support services. Kaul entered into national lawsuits to be part of the damages settlement with opioid manufacturers as a steady uptick in Fentanyl overdose deaths overtook Wisconsin.
  • Kaul: “This problem would not have happened if it wasn’t for the pumping up of opioid prescriptions through efforts of pharmaceutical companies. When we filed our suit against Purdue Pharma just months after I took office as [Attorney General], we laid out in our complaint our allegations about how this whole thing started. You know, if you go back decades, opioid prescriptions were incredibly low in Wisconsin and nationwide. But through efforts of companies like Purdue Pharma to really push opioids, to promote studies that were not actually valid, to encourage doctors to prescribe opioids. There’s been a major addiction epidemic that’s happened. And the impacts that we’re seeing are still, to this day, in significant part, being driven by that.”
  • Katrina Nordyke
    Deputy Public Health Officer, Brown County Public Health

    • Brown County Public Health has investigated more than 65 cases of whooping cough, or pertussis, since April. Vaccines for the disease – which is especially dangerous for babies – are part of the regular schedule for children, as are boosters for adults. Nordyke described how vaccination rates slowed during the pandemic, resulting in outbreaks of disease like pertussis and measles.
    • Nordyke: “We have to wonder how much of that small decline in uptake is due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people not being able to go into their providers, people falling behind on just general appointments. And also maybe some questions remaining about the actual COVID-19 vaccination. But we encourage people, please reach out to your medical provider, and ask any questions you have. You can ask them where your vaccination status is at. For you or your loved ones. You can also check online on the Wisconsin Immunization Registry to see what vaccines you have and talk to your provider about vaccines you may need.”

    Alex Brower
    Executive Director, Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans

    • The latest federal assessment of the solvency of the Social Security program, which provides retirement and disability benefits, shows it will be insolvent by 2035, when its trust fund reserves could run out. That will mean recipients will only get 83% of their benefits rather than 100%. Brower’s organization supports a Congressional measure requiring high-income earners to contribute more toward Social Security taxes to help those workers of more moderate means.
    • Brower: “Those individuals owe to our collective success. And that means that everybody who’s a worker currently has a full and dignified retirement. So we are asking, yes, we are asking the richest Americans to pay their fair share. But really, it’s pennies compared to the wealth that we’ve created for them by being American consumers.”

    Watch new episodes of Here & Now at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays.

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