‘It’s building a connection’: Opioid grant funds MPD addiction resource officer, peer support specialist

City accepts $1.2 million U.S. Dept. of Justice Grant for Pathways to Recovery Madison & Dane County initiative

MADISON, Wis. – A $1.2 million grant will help Madison and Dane County create an addiction resource team to prevent opioid overdoses.

The Madison Common Council approved a resolution Tuesday allocating the money from the U.S. Department of Justice, calling the opioid epidemic a “public health emergency.”

After nearly 80 opioid-related deaths in 2018, the new Pathways to Recovery Madison & Dane County initiative’s goal is to reduce that number by 25 percent with the cooperation of emergency responders and public health officials.

In part, the grant expands upon the Madison Police Department’s Madison Addiction Recovery Initiative, which allows Dane County residents who overdose or commit a non-violent, low-level crime related to their addiction to forgo jail for treatment. It will become the Madison Area Addiction Recovery Initiative.

The grant funds an addiction resource team made up of a Madison Police Department addiction resource officer, Madison Fire Department community paramedic, certified peer support specialist, assessment center clinician, project coordinator and project evaluator.

The aim is to get people proactively connected to resources before an overdose.

“In my position, I didn’t have anywhere to turn,” said Kurt Stapleton, a recovery coach for Safe Communities.

Ten years ago, Stapleton was caught in an addiction that began with a prescription from a simple surgery.

“There were a lot of things that happened growing up that I endured. (The pills) took it all away, and it temporarily made me forget all that sadness and despair,” he said. “I didn’t reach out to anybody. My cry for help was unfortunately robbing a pharmacy to get the pain killers I was addicted to.”

Now ten years clean, Stapleton wants to lend a helping hand to others before they get to that point.

“Life is a journey, and I never thought I’d be where I am today,” he said. “It’s building a connection … When you talk with somebody who’s been through this, who’s lived with this, been in the trenches of addiction, you can empathize with them. They can feel you’ve been there and know exactly how it feels.”

It’s people like Stapleton who Officer Bernie Albright said can really push those dealing with addiction in the right direction. The new addiction resource officer will work with the civilian peer support specialist, who will have had personal experience battling addiction.

“You see this switch go on and this instant bond of trust between them that the police department is now kind of brought into,” Albright said.

Together, they’ll work as a team to find community members at risk and connect them with recovery resources.

“It’s more proactive than waiting for an overdose to happen,” Albright said. “It’s a really great way to get people into a life of recovery.”

Albright says although it’s still a big issue, local numbers related to the opioid epidemic are finally going in the right direction.

“I have seen this change, just the awareness and people talking about it,” Stapleton said. “It’s incredible, because five years ago, you really didn’t hear about the opioid epidemic.”

Stapleton said that progress comes from shining a spotlight on the issue and ways those feeling stuck can move forward.

“I’m incredibly hopeful,” he said. “It’s really helping a lot of people who need the help.”

Albright expects the resource team to get started by late spring.

Those dealing with addiction can visit Safe Communities’ website for information on resources.