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Heroin Overdoses, Overdose-Related Deaths In Madison Soar In 2018

Madison Police Department Statistics Show Increases In Overdoses, Overdose-Related Deaths

heroin needles
Used heroin syringes are stored in a water bottle as Steve Monnin cleans a wooded area in Combs Park, in Hamilton, Ohio. John Minchillo/AP Photo

This year has proven to be a deadly one for heroin overdoses in Madison, according to the latest statistics from the police department.

From the beginning of January through the end of October, the city had a total of 38 suspected heroin overdose-related deaths, compared to 21 over the same time frame in 2017. That amounts to a nearly 81 percent increase.

Madison police officer Bernie Albright said the data shows the city is “in the throes of an epidemic.”

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“What it means is that we are in a public health crisis here in Madison, and we are definitely in the throes of an epidemic,” said Albright, who also serves as coordinator for the Madison Addiction Recovery Initiative, or MARI, which seeks to funnel opioid users facing drug charges into treatment, rather than jail.

“That’s one of the scary parts to this. We’ve had an 81 percent increase this year in fatalities,” Albright said. “What is it going to be next year? What is (it) going to be the year after that? Are we going to be in the hundreds of fatalities instead of dozens?”

The number of heroin overdoses that did not result in fatalities has also increased, though by a less striking percentage. Between January and October of this year, 251 people have overdosed, compared to 199 in the same period last year. That constitutes a 26 percent increase.

“At this point we don’t know when it’s going to peak,” said Albright. “Hopefully we have peaked at this point and we’re going to start seeing a decrease in numbers, but unfortunately that’s not the trend around the country right now.”

In October alone, the number of known heroin overdoses decreased by just over a third. However, October 2017 holds a grim record for the highest number of such events in a single month.

The Madison Police Department has previously cautioned against focusing on month-to-month variances. Year-to-date numbers, public information officer Joel DeSpain has told WPR, reflect more reliable trends.

As Madison Police Chief Mike Koval noted in his blog, this spike in suspected heroin overdose-related deaths comes just weeks after the department debuted its MARI Outreach Team. Right now, it consists of Albright and a recovery coach from their community health partner.

For the past three weeks, the team has visited people who have recently overdosed, as well as their families, to offer services, enroll in the MARI program and, if deemed necessary, offer doses of Narcan and administration instructions.

Out of the 25 known heroin overdoses last month, the Madison police referred seven overdose subjects to MARI. Albright said a number of factors may preclude someone from enrolling, such as residence outside of Dane County or parole status.

So far, MARI has about 20 active participants and 22 program graduates.