Each day, emails are sent out to our Department by the Officer-in-Charge giving a summary of the calls that occurred throughout Madison on each shift. Unfortunately, it has become rare that we don't read about a heroin overdose or death on a regular basis. Heroin addiction is plaguing our City and the extent of heroin use would probably astonish most citizens.
These calls come in to our Department in several ways, including: a person who is in a medical emergency as a result of a known overdose, a person unconscious for an unknown reason or even a car crash resulting from the driver passing out shortly after taking illegal drugs. Not all overdoses are known or reported, but there were 133 documented overdoses in Dane County in 2013. Of these 133 overdoses 25 resulted in death. The drug of choice for the vast majority of these incidents was heroin.
Heroin is an illegal and highly addictive drug which is derived from the poppy plant (as are other opiate drugs) and can be ingested in different ways to get high. Historically, heroin was viewed as a 'big city' problem and users were often hardened addicts; but now it's become prevalent for thousands of Wisconsin's adults and youth, in both rural and metropolitan communities. The main reason for the surge in heroin use is that the drug can be more readily obtained at a cheaper price point than ever before. Many people addicted to heroin started with abusing prescribed opiates intended as pain killers. As prescription drugs have become more difficult to obtain, heroin use began to rise.
In 2012, the number of heroin-related deaths in Wisconsin skyrocketed by nearly 50%. Statistics suggest that more than 75% of those that try heroin will use it again. One of the effects of the drug is that the brain builds up a tolerance level which then requires the user to "need" the drug more frequently in order to replicate the same sort of high. As time passes, addicts have to use heroin just to feel "normal". Every time someone uses heroin, the individual risks overdose or death as heroin can dangerously slow the heart and lung functions. In fact, it is not extraordinary for an officer to find someone pulseless and/or not breathing upon arrival at these calls. (Fortunately, our first responders timely provision of first aid, coupled with the Fire Department's administration of Narcan has saved many lives!).
Increasingly, it has been demonstrated that heroin use also leads to an increase in crimes. A drug user will go to great lengths to placate an addiction. This then creates a need to feed the addiction which can frequently lead to an uptick in burglaries, thefts, robberies and other ancillary crimes. In 2012 the Madison Police Department had nearly 1,000 known heroin users or dealers in the area. We are committed to creating a safe and healthy quality-of-life for all of those who live in our community and this means we will not hesitate to use whatever legal means we can to educate, enforce and refer those who do harm to themselves and/our City by the production, distribution and use of this insidious drug.
Enforcement is but one, limited tool that police can employ to stem the trend of heroin usage. There is a need for a coordinated, comprehensive approach to this pervasive issue. But, there is hope and help. If you know of someone who is addicted to heroin or any drug, there are treatment centers, rehabilitation programs and intensive drug therapy programs available in our community. It is important for the friends and family of the drug user to also seek help so they know how to help their loved one through their recovery. It will take time, there will be setbacks, but it is important that we continue to work in the community to end this epidemic.
For more information on community resources regarding drug addiction check out these websites:
Information for this blog was authored by Alyssa Cains, Administrative Assistant for Chief Michael Koval.