New police program aims to decrease heroin overdoses in Madison

New police program aims to decrease heroin overdoses in Madison
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As the heroin epidemic continues to grow in Madison, police have realized something needs to change.

“We’re seeing the death rate go up and we’re seeing the overdose rates go up at alarming rate,” said Officer Dan Swanson, with the Madison Police Department.

Swanson helps track the number of heroin overdose responses and said the trend is only getting worse.

“We saw a 266 percent increase in heroin overdoses, not possession charges, but overdoses in a three-year period from 2013 to 2015,” Swanson said.

Last year alone, Madison fire and police were called to more than 440 overdoses.

“I think we saw these alarming rates and what we’re doing now is clearly not enough. We just need another option,” Swanson said.

MPD applied for and was recently granted a $700,000 grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance to roll out the Madison Addiction Recovery Initiative. Swanson said other cities across the country have similar programs in place and have seen a high success rate.

“The ultimate goal of MARI is to save lives,” Swanson said.

Swanson said through MPD’s current procedure, addicts are being arrested, then charged with possession or theft to feed their heroin addiction.

“This is a problem that we can’t arrest our way out of and quite frankly, these are people who need treatment, not jail time,” Swanson said,

To help facilitate the program, the grant brings in other community entities, like public health.

“I think it’s going to be good because we’re really trying to build on other programs that exist,” said Julia Olsen, public health supervisor.

Olsen said she’s been researching the best practices to implement and train officers on. She said putting police at the forefront of the recovery will be beneficial.

“We’re really trying to just make this part of their normal process to essentially screen people for the program and get them involved,” Olsen said.

The next step is to find treatment providers as early as possible, but the MPD has run into some road blocks.

“We always know that the demand really outpaces the resources,” Olsen said.

Currently, there is about a 90 day wait to meet with a treatment provider. The MPD wants to cut that wait significantly.

“We’re hoping through this grant that these funds and our partners open those doors a little bit wider to get people into treatment quicker,” Swanson said.

He’s hoping the maximum wait time for treatment through the MARI program will be 72 hours.

The training for officers began last week and will continue through the spring months. The MPD hopes to implement the procedure in June.