JANESVILLE, Wis. - The Janesville Police Department is investigating two suspected fatal overdoses and said the city is nearing last year’s record for overdose deaths.
Police said there have been nine deaths related to heroin or opioids in Janesville this year. If the two deaths that officers are investigating are confirmed to be heroin-related, that would bring the total to 11. There were 12 overdose deaths in Janesville last year.
“It’s certainly possible with the couple months that we have left here in the year. We’re hoping that isn’t the case, but it’s possible,” Lt. Terry Sheridan said about surpassing last year’s record.
Sheridan said it’s unusual for there to be multiple overdose deaths in the city, which is concerning for police.
“With the city our size, we don’t often see that so close, back to back like that or within close proximity,” Sheridan said. “We don’t think there’s any relation to either of them. There’s nothing that would indicate that there’s any relation at all to either of them, but it’s unusual for this city.”
Police said they’ve investigated 41 nonfatal overdoses so far this year but believe the actual number of overdoses is much higher because not everyone reports them.
“In particular with heroin and opioids, the overdoses, we believe, are probably at least three times higher than we know about,” Sheridan said. “If they overdose and say, for example, Narcan is administered by a friend, and they kind of come out of it and they appear not to have any adverse effects, chances are they probably don’t report it, especially to the police department because they don’t want to have any arrests associated with it.”
Sheridan said police have made arrests in 20 of the 50 overdose cases, with charges ranging from violation of probation or parole to first-degree reckless homicide. He said, however, that the police are less concerned about making arrests and more concerned about making sure people are safe and healthy.
“We don’t want them to be afraid they’re going to be arrested and have that be the reason why they don’t call for help,” Sheridan said. “In some cases, they delay calling the police because they want to clean stuff up, and that short delay could be the difference between life and death.”
Sheridan said this problem is bigger than the police department; it takes the whole community to fight the epidemic.
“We can’t do this alone,” he said. “This takes a whole community effort to address this issue, and law enforcement alone won’t be successful without the community’s help and support.”
One way the police department is teaming up with other organizations is through the Rx Alert program, which “establishes a line of communication between law enforcement, pharmacies and medical professionals to monitor fraudulent activity for prescription medication,” according to a release from the police department.
In April, the state mandated that all medical providers and pharmacists use the Wisconsin Enhanced Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. Doctors have to check the database before prescribing their patient a controlled substance, and pharmacists have to report certain information once the patient picks the prescription up, said Don Janczak, the director of pharmacy services for Mercyhealth.
“It’s a tool that years ago, we never really had,“Janczak said. “We never really had that information that a patient is going to multiple prescribers, multiple pharmacies and really gaining access to those prescription drugs.”
Janczak said the statewide database helps medical professionals limit opioids for people who might be prone to abuse them and restrict the narcotics for people who use them illegally.
“Is it going to fix everything? Probably not, but it’s a tool to help us better manage this,” Janczak said.
He said every state except Missouri has a program like this, and at the federal level, there is a possibility of merging the databases with adjoining states.
Aside from medical professionals, Sheridan said the general community can also help fight the epidemic. He said the best way is to make sure people dispose of their old prescription medication at any of the drop boxes around the area. There’s one in the lobby of the Janesville Police Department.
Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change also offers free overdose-prevention training classes for people interested in learning how to use Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose. The next training session is Dec. 12 at 6 p.m. at Hedberg Public Library in Janesville. No registration is required, and attendees can take home a Narcan kit.
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