Opioid Overdoses, Deaths Down In Madison, Dane County In 2019

Public Health Madison And Dane County: Crisis Is Not Over

Narcan nasal spray
John Minchillo/AP Photo

In Madison and Dane County, fewer people are overdosing or dying from opioid use, according to the Madison Police Department and Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC).

Madison police responded to 10 percent fewer overdoses in 2019 than in 2018, said Madison Police officer Bernie Albright, who runs the Madison Addiction Recovery Initiative, a police program that tries to divert people from the criminal justice system and into addiction treatment programs.

In 2018 there were 275 nonfatal overdoses. In 2019 there were 246.

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Albright acknowledged police don’t count the overdoses where no one calls 911.

“The one number I do like to look at that tells you, that really kind of confirms the trend, is the fatalities. We may not find out about an overdose, but we always find out about a fatality,” Albright said.

Those fatalities were down 30 percent compared to 2018, according to police data. In 2018 there were 42 fatal overdoses. In 2019 there were 29.

This downward trend seems to be happening in Dane County as a whole, said Sarah Johnson of PHMDC.

PHMDC’s tentative 2019 numbers show a second-year decrease in both opioid overdoses and deaths, Johnson said, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“If you think of it as an iceberg, that’s just the very tip that we can see,” she said. “Underneath the surface, people are still overdosing and going to the hospital, overdosing and using our first responders, overdosing and just being revived by their friends or family who don’t call first responders, and then people who are just still struggling with substance use disorder.”

Both Albright and Johnson said the increased availability of Narcan — an over-the-counter, overdose-reversing drug — has helped.

“Narcan really is the lifesaver here,” Albright said. “It literally brings people back from the dead.”

The Madison Addiction Recovery Initiative, which Albright runs, is looking to expand to cover the Madison area, thanks to a $1.2 million federal grant. The new program will bring together several agencies, including PHMDC and the Madison Police Department, which will designate an officer to work exclusively with opioid diversion.

Albright said the program will be up and running in June.

Statewide, there were 421 opioid deaths in the first half of 2019, five less than the same period in 2018. By the end of 2018, 839 people in Wisconsin had died from opioids.