Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital, Safe Communities and Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation Announce Program to Help People Struggling With Opiate Addiction

October 05, 2016
Stephanie Miller 608-267-8823
County Executive

Pilot Funded in Exec’s ’17 Budget Will Get People The Help They Need After Overdosing


Today, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, SSM Health St. Mary’s, Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation and Safe Communities announced a new program to help people who struggle with opiate addiction to get help after experiencing a medical emergency as a result of an overdose. The pilot project is modeled after a successful program in Rhode Island, where experts in treatment intervene with overdose patients in emergency rooms, shortly after their medical conditions are stabilized. County Executive Parisi included $15,000 in his budget for next year to match dollars from the Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation to pilot the program which will be run by Safe Communities. The pilot starts in the Emergency Department at SSM Health St. Mary’s November 1, 2017.


“We are seeing more and more of our neighbors struggle with addiction,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. “Alcohol and Drug Treatment programs are available through the County but alone will not solve the problem. We must be sure to take full advantage of opportunities to guide those burdened by addiction to the help they need. Thank you to our community partners, SSM Health St. Mary’s, Safe Communities and the Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation for stepping up to address this public health crisis.”


Through the first seven months of this year the Madison Fire Department responded to 288 calls for suspected heroin and opiate overdoses. That was two and a half times greater than the same number of those incidents reported through July of 2015. In the six weeks leading up to the introduction of this budget, there were 60 overdose calls across Dane County - an average of 10 per week.  Here and across the country, heroin and opiate abuse is a public health and public safety crisis of critical proportion. 


“In 2015, we saw approximately 180 opioid overdose patients in our Emergency Department at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital,” said ED physician Dr. Kyle Martin. “Many of those who overdose are suffering from addiction and may not have the proper support system to help them. We know something needs to be done to address this current drug overdose epidemic, which is why we are proud to be partnering on this pilot project.”


The program expects to work with 75 overdose victims in the emergency department at SSM Health St. Mary’s. The program will have recovery coaches on call weekends from 8 PM Friday night through 8 AM Monday morning. Weekends have been identified as the time when frequent overdoses occur. The project will be evaluated on how many overdose victims were helped and how many remain in recovery.


“Addressing the rise in opioid abuse through proper prescribing and access to treatment is a priority of physician members of the Wisconsin Medical Society and a funding priority for the Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation’s grant program. The Foundation is proud to partner with Safe Communities Madison and Dane County on this innovative program with the hope that it may serve as a model for other communities facing similar increases in opioid related deaths,” said Eileen Wilson, Executive Director, Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation.


Recovery Coaches are state-certified and have training on motivational interviewing, basic counseling techniques, and appropriate self-disclosure. Coaches are people in recovery who have had the same experiences as the patients that they will serve.


"Safe Communities is so excited to partner with the County Executive, SSM St. Mary's, and the Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation on the Emergency Department to Recovery project,” said Skye Tikkanen, MS, CSAC, LPC, CS-IT Drug Poisoning Prevention Program Manager Safe Communities Madison-Dane County. “We cannot overstate the importance of interventions at points of crisis for those that suffer with the disease of addiction. Navigating the treatment system is difficult, but is near impossible when going through a crisis. This program will not only connect the patient with on-going treatment resources but the Recovery Coaches will also follow the patient until they are able to begin treatment.”


In his 2017 Dane County Budget proposal, Dane County Executive Parisi also announced  2 full time opiates counselor positions to given dozens of people otherwise facing criminal charges the opportunity for treatment and rehabilitation. The additional staff doubles the program’s capacity, keeping more people out of jail and getting help for the root causes of their addiction. The deferred prosecution program works with non-violent opiate addicts to help assess what help they need and get them that treatment. Participants comply with weekly drug testing, face to face meetings with their counselor, take part in programming for their challenges and work to rebuild their relationships. Since its inception in 2013, the program has helped 157 participants.


Dane County has also been operating a drug court since 1986 that provides prosecution and sentencing alternatives to the criminal justice system for persons with substance abuse problems. The court services Dane County residents who are referred on felony non-violent drug driven charges who are at medium or high risk to re-offend. Graduates of this year-long program can have charges reduced or dismissed and have periods of incarceration reduced or eliminated.


“From the emergency room, to the criminal justice system, to our work with community partners Dane County is doing what we can to help those struggling with addiction,” concluded Dane County Executive Parisi.