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Summit Brings Focus on Initial Steps to Slow Increase of Opiates Overdoses in Dane County

April 23, 2012
Casey Slaughter Becker, Office of the County Executive (608) 267-8823 or cell (608) 843-8858. Katie Crawley, Office of Mayor Paul Soglin (608)-266-4611.
County Executive

County Executive, Mayor, Discuss Strategies That Tackle the Gateway to Addiction


Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Madison Mayor Paul Soglin today announced strategies that are underway to tackle the gateways to opiates addiction, and other action steps necessary to slow the increase of opiates overdoses in Dane County.


The initiatives emerged following a day-long community summit in January that brought together over 130 people representing health care, law enforcement, courts, education and counseling. Priorities were set in six strategy areas within an action plan the County Executive and Mayor laid out last fall to address the county’s growing drug-poisoning problem.  Soglin and Parisi created the opiates action plan, spearheaded by Safe Communities, in their respective 2012 budgets.


Last year poisoning deaths became the county’s number one cause of injury-related death, killing more Dane County residents than automobile crashes.  Two-thirds of poisoning deaths are due to drug overdoses.  Officials point to the rising abuse of prescription drugs such as  OxyContin, oxycodone, and Vicodin as gateways to heroin abuse.  Those who abuse painkillers are said to make the switch to heroin because the drug is much cheaper and easier to obtain.


“By focusing on the gateways to opiates addiction we can find concrete ways to get the entire community involved in slowing the increase of these incidents,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi.  “This is not a problem that’s confined to an urban or a rural area, or even to Dane County.  This is something we must all come together to address, and we are leading the way.”

“The six strategy areas illustrate the complexity of this issue”, said Mayor Paul Soglin “It’s important that we set goals but we’ve been warned this problem will not be solved overnight. Our immediate goal is to stop the growth.”


The first action steps identified at the summit in three key areas of the opiates action plan are already underway.


  • More Than Double Safe Communities MedDrop boxes from 4 to 10 – Reduce Access to Drugs


Access to and abuse of prescription painkillers and other opiates is often the gateway to serious heroin addition.  MedDrop boxes help reduce this access by providing safe disposal alternatives. The full-time availability of these MedDrop boxes will more than double later this week with the opening of six new boxes in Cambridge, Deerfield, Madison West District, Mazomanie, McFarland and Waunakee. Current MedDrop locations in Fitchburg, Madison East, Middleton and Sun Prairie, and prior MedDrop events, have already collected over 11 tons of drugs for incineration since the program began in 2007.

  • Form a Health Care Task Force on Opiate Prescribing – Reduce Inappropriate Prescription Use


To further tackle the prescription drug gateway, the opiates action plan includes working with the medical community to address prescription drug dosing, to avoid unused doses in households that can be abused or given to someone else.


This summer, Safe Communities will convene a task force of physician leaders from Dane County’s health care organizations, including pharmacists and dentists, to focus on decreasing pain prescription dosing. This collaboration aims to implement consistent policies and practices community wide.   


The group will also consider reasonable restrictions on the use of higher potency opiates.  Physicians Plus Insurance Corporation reports early success in significantly reducing OxyContin use by its members by limiting prescriptions to cancer patients only.


  • Implement Best Practices to Address Youth Addiction - Substance Abuse Primary Prevention


Another key to slowing the increase of opiates abuse is to prevent addiction in youth. Compiling and implementing the most proven techniques is imperative.  Safe and Drug Free Schools & Communities will invite teachers, counselors, and others who work with children to a workshop on Wednesday, May 30th entitled, “Prevention of Youth Drug and Alcohol Abuse: What Works, What Doesn’t” to help implement consistent best practices throughout the county.


Other areas of the action plan include improving poisoning intervention to reduce overdose deaths; early intervention, drug treatment, and recovery efforts through family and community assisted intervention efforts, detox and recovery programs, and alternatives to incarceration; and integration of mental health care to address some of the root causes of addiction.


The action plan is being executed in partnership with Safe Communities.  Safe Communities has successfully launched a number of similar community focused initiatives throughout the area, and has been a leader in local efforts to address drug abuse.


“Drug poisoning is an issue that affects us all,” says Cheryl Wittke, Safe Communities Executive Director. “We are fortunate so many have stepped up and are willing to dedicate time and expertise to solve this issue. We’re continuing to reach out to make sure no one is missing in this effort.”


Wittke notes that a large part of the effort involves education and engaging the entire community to make changes to curb drug poisoning.  Safe Communities will continue to coordinate these education tools, including a six-minute video from Yellow Dog Productions that highlights partners from the six strategy areas offering their insights and next steps to reduce death and injury from drug poisoning.


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