Safe Communities hosts summit to curb opioid epidemic

Safe Communities hosts summit to curb opioid epidemic

Wisconsin’s epidemic of opioid abuse is on the rise. Gov. Walker’s task force on opioids will be in Madison Friday to talk about how doctors are treating chronic pain. There’s another group in Dane County that has been working to end this problem for years.

Safe Communities recognized the problem five years ago and convened about 150 community partners to figure out how to address the opioid epidemic. They’re meeting again Friday to talk about their progress over the past five years.

Since they first met in January 2012, the number of MedDrop boxes has expanded from two to 14 and over 18 tons of unused medicines have been collected. All Dane County EMS agencies and most local police departments are equipped to administer Naloxone. Safe Communities also helped launch the recovery coach program and are hoping to expand it outside of SSM Health’s St. Mary’s.

“They know about the pain and they know sort of how low people can feel and then, how hopeful they can be. Having that message has made a big difference and we’ve seen 90 percent of folks who are going through that process sign up for treatment,” Cheryl Wittke, Safe Communities executive director, said.

Just last week, President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency, and Wisconsin’s legislature passed nearly 20 bills over the last three years to curb drug abuse. But Wittke said while a lot has been accomplished, there’s still more to be done.

“There’s a lot more to be done and things are not good. We’re not seeing a reduction in overdose deaths currently. I guess maybe the good news is we’ve seen a slowing in the rate of increase,” Wittke said.

New numbers out of the CDC highlight the importance of the summit. According to one report, fewer Americans are dying from cancer, HIV and heart disease. Meanwhile, drug overdose deaths show the most stark increase. The CDC reports 91 people die from opioid overdoses every day.

At Monday’s Stop the Overdose Summit, the group will set new goals and come up with another to-do list.