Madison firefighters see nearly 350% increase in overdose cases - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Madison firefighters see nearly 350% increase in overdose cases where Naloxone was needed

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Naloxone training session in Madison. Naloxone training session in Madison.
Naloxone kit given to participants at training sessions. Naloxone kit given to participants at training sessions.

MADISON (WKOW)-- Heroin and opiate abuse is on the rise in Southern Wisconsin, but that comes as no surprise to those who work closely with this issue. The surprise comes after looking at recently released numbers from the Madison Fire Department that show just how serious this issue has become.

27 News asked the Madison Fire Department how many times they've revived heroin and opiate addicts in recent months. They responded with some rather alarming numbers.

According to their records, which go back to 2013, paramedics administered Naloxone six times in February of 2013, 12 times in February of 2014 and 12 more times in February of 2015.

This past February that number jumped to 42. That's more than three times higher than any other February.

The numbers are just as concerning when looking at the month of March. Over the last three years they've averaged 13 saves in the month of March. So far this month, which is only half over, they've already used Naloxone 22 times to save an addict from a fatal overdose.

"When you talk about the numbers, that's when it really spikes your concern," Madison Fire Department Medical Affairs Division Chief Che Stedman explains.

The recent spike in Naloxone saves started in July of last year. Up until then the number of saves stayed relatively flat. According to the Madison Fire Department's records, 243 people were saved from a fatal overdose in 2015. So far this year they've revived an additional 91 users.

Stedman says paramedics and EMTs aren't carrying any more Naloxone than they have in the past. The department has been using the drug to revive heroin and opiate addicts for years.

He says some possible explanations for the recent spike may be that a stronger batch of heroin has recently found its way into the area.

He says nationwide there has also been an increase in the amount of heroin that is laced with Fentanyl. The drug is often prescribed to treat pain, but when combined with heroin, it can create a lethal combination that's much more potent.

Health officials also say the range of potency has never been higher. They say in recent decades the potency of heroin pretty much stayed the same, but in recent years a user who is used to having a certain type of heroin could easily come across a batch that is more than five times as potent.

The drug Naloxone is designed to reverse the effects of heroin and opiates. This "lifesaving drug" as officials call it, has been used by paramedics for years, but Madison Police have only been carrying it since July of last year.

The department received 600 doses through a special grant. Leadership decided immediately that they would train every officer how to use it in the field. 27 News has learned that since this training Madison Police have used the drug more than 60 times.

This training is now being offered to residents who are concerned about addicts in their lives. Last year the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin traveled across the state in order to train more than 500 parents, siblings and friends who were concerned about an addict they know.

Wednesday night in Madison they held another one of these training sessions through a partnership with Safe Communities Madison-Dane County. More than 20 people showed up and received two doses to take home.

"It's unfortunate, but it's the world we live in right now," AIDS Resource Center Director of Prevention Services Scott Stokes says. "At least having Naloxone on hand makes them feel like they have a little bit of a safety net. If their loved one is in trouble they can respond."

Stokes says these training sessions started out with instructors training addicts back in 2006. Since that time they've trained more than 8,000 of them, who have gone on to use their training 4,300 to save someone from a fatal overdose. Last year this training expanded to include family members and friends who are concerned about an addict they know.

While some may see this training as enabling the addicts to keep using their drug of choice, Cheryl Wittke of Safe Communities Madison-Dane County sees it as a way to encourage treatment.

"If we can save them through this Naloxone and then at that time get them into treatment, that's a very powerful and compelling time to reach people," Wittke explains.

While the number of recorded saves are on the rise, so is the cost of Naloxone. Instructors say the burden of buying this drug is starting to get overwhelming.

"Last year we purchased 16,000 doses of Naloxone for just under $14,000 dollars," Stokes explains. "This year that same purchase would cost $244,000."

Despite the rising costs, Stokes says he and others will continue to offer this training, hoping to come across a new source of funding. Together with Safe Communities Madison-Dane County, their goal is hold at least one training session in the Madison area every other month in 2016.

For more information on this training, and a possible session near you, visit the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin at

Or visit Safe Communities Madison-Dane County at

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