In 2021, over 100,000 people lost their lives to a drug-related overdose in this country. In Wisconsin, there were 1,227 deaths related to opioids in 2020, the latest full year of data available. Armed with a burning passion and a collection of pristinely organized spreadsheets, Wisconsin’s Jessica Geschke wants to make sure no one else dies unnecessarily to drug overdose and poisoning.
Jessica is the Program Manager for Serve You Rx* and the President of Start Healing Now, a nonprofit that supports individuals and their families on the path to long-term recovery from substance use disorder. She is also an integral member of the Wisconsin Recovery Advocacy Project, a network of Wisconsinites advocating for recovery-informed policies and legislation. Jessica is an addiction and recovery professional by trade, and ever since 2017, she has been on a mission to increase access to the life-saving medication Narcan, and also advocate for the families and loved ones of those with Substance Use Disorder (SUD).
“In 2017, my brother overdosed in my home, and my 12-year-old son he found him blue and unresponsive,” Jessica remembered. Her brother was revived with Narcan, and taken to a local hospital. “No one there came up to me, no one said a word to me,” Jessica remembered.
While sitting in the emergency room ignored by medical staff, Jessica noticed something interesting. “I watched a mom walk up to an InstyMed machine and she got an antibiotic for her child. You can get medicines out of this machine!”
Jessica wondered why Narcan wasn’t this accessible, and she began to think about making Narcan available just like this antibiotic in the emergency room was. “We need to do better, we need to do something.”
Jessica came up with putting Narcan in vending machines but soon realized the machines were too costly. She eventually envisioned an idea that could work: a plastic box filled with Narcan that hung on the walls of commonly used places – restrooms, shelters, gas stations, motels, coffee shops, etc. That year, Jessica installed 25 kits in and around her community.
Serve You Rx CEO Sharon Murillo met Jessica while lobbying for change in Washington, D.C. Today, the pair collaborates together on the OAK program, which installs Overdose Aid Kits in any other place a person may experience an overdose event. The OAK boxes include the life-saving drug Narcan, instructions on how to administer it, and resources on opioid addiction. The Narcan in each OAK is available for anyone to take, no questions asked, to use in an onsite emergency, or to keep in their first-aid kit for future use. As part of the program, all Serve You Rx clients are offered Narcan training, one-on-one support, and their own OAK box to display in their place of business. Jessica wants to install OAK boxes all over Wisconsin and eventually across the country through strategic partnerships.
Jessica is joined by other dedicated advocates on the Wisconsin RAP team. The number one priority for the group is the planning and execution of the 2nd Recovery Alignment Day, coming up on May 3. Recovery advocates and allies from across Wisconsin will join together for training, speakers, and to meet with state representatives and senators to advocate for recovery. A ‘living library’ will allow special guests to share their stories while paired with a community member for a question and answer session. Guests will move from table to table getting to know all the stories in the ‘living library’ as they move about the room. Special guests include Recovery Advocacy Project organizers Ryan Hampton and Garrett Hade, and Tom Farley, the brother of the late comedian Chris Farley.
Outside of Alignment Day, one of the biggest priorities for Wisconsin RAP is to work with the state on creating more robust standards for recovery housing in Wisconsin. “As a person who also had a brother who’s been in and out of sober living homes, I ask where is the oversight of these homes?”
Jessica has been in contact with Wisconsin Association for Sober Housing (WASH) to create regulations for standards for the state’s recovery housing, and they are currently trying to work out a game plan with the State of Wisconsin to improve the recovery housing situation in the state.
Another priority for the group is to increase the group’s visibility of recovery initiatives. The past year was a building year, Jessica said, and they have been busy planning and hosting events and training to increase awareness of recovery and SUD in the state. Education is a key part of awareness and Jessica is so grateful that RAP has afforded her so many opportunities.
“The training provided has been priceless,” Jessica said of the two-day Public Narrative course. “I would not have been able to do those things if it weren’t for RAP.”
To Jessica, RAP is doing so much more, as well. Within the community, there is a common thread of understanding, collaboration and reaching a common goal.
“It has become a dog-eat-dog world in our recovery community,” she said regarding the cutthroat competition around securing grant funding. “With RAP, no one is competing against each other and we’re all together working for the same thing.”
If you are interested in joining Wisconsin RAP or want more info on Alignment Day, email Jessica at JGeschke@serveyourx.com. The group meets online first and third Wednesday of each month at 7 pm CST.
*Serve You Rx is a sponsor of Mobilize Recovery