Heroin deaths are on the rise in Dane County. In the city of Madison, more people are dying from heroin than ever before.
Law enforcement says last month was particularly bad. The opioid epidemic rages on.
33 people have died from heroin overdoses in Madison so far this year. That’s more than twice as many as last year.
Those are the official Madison Police Department numbers, but MPD Detective Daniel Swanson says the actual number of heroin overdose deaths is likely much higher. “What you have to keep in mind is we are only seeing a fraction of actual overdoses because most overdoses aren’t reported. Most overdoses people deal with on their own. They have Narcan which they can get over the counter from pharmacies and other ways as well. So, most overdoses are dealt with without 911 being called.”
Swanson says that 120 percent rise in overdose deaths is fairly similar to the trend of last year and the year before. “The trend is staying the same, if not climbing slightly each year.”
While the trend has been getting worse year after year, last month saw a spike in overdose deaths. Last year, MPD responded to only one known heroin overdose death in August. Last month, they responded to five.
Swanson says sudden spikes like that are sometimes due to a quote “bad batch” of heroin. Dealers more and more are lacing heroin with fentanyl, Swanson says.
Fentanyl is one of the most potent opioids, and it’s about 100 times more powerful than morphine. “I think the introduction and increase in fentanyl has probably been responsible for the large increase that we’ve seen this year and last year. We are seeing it more and more. The street level user doesn’t necessarily know that fentanyl is being mixed in with their heroin because it looks exactly the same.”
Swanson says he doesn’t expect the rate of fatal heroin overdoses to decline. In fact, he says, without comprehensive reform, it will continue to get worse. “It’s important for the community to know that what we are doing isn’t working. IF we’re going to do better at this… it’s really going to take the entire community.”
The Madison Police Department has a program called the Madison Addiction Recovery Initiative that Swanson lead from its start a year ago until May of this year. It redirects low level drug offenders to community services, rather than prosecution.
Last month, MPD referred eight individuals to the program, and six of them are currently in treatment.
Swanson would like to see that program expand and include other departments in Dane County.
He points to Seattle, which has a similar program, but it’s larger and encompasses more services.