MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Public health officials concerned by a growing number of heroin-related deaths in Dane County have started working with police and the medical community to try to make drugs harder to find.
Dane County has begun asking medical professionals who prescribe painkillers to re-examine their practices, and drop boxes have gone up in police stations so people can discard unused medication. The efforts were prompted in part because of deaths and traffic crashes attributed to opiate abuse.
The Dane County medical examiner's office said there have been at least 21 heroin-related deaths this year, up from 20 last year, according to a Wisconsin State Journal report. While the increase might not seem big, police say they're also seeing incidents in which drivers crashed or were found unconscious in traffic after admitted or suspected heroin use.
Another telling statistic is the number of times Madison Fire Department paramedics have had to inject Narcan, which is mainly used to reverse opiate overdoses. There have been almost 300 such injections this year, up from 178 in 2009.
"What's alarming to me is the number of people who have experienced an overdose," said Lisa Bullard-Cawthorne, the health education coordinator for Public Health Madison and Dane County.
The Dane County Narcotics and Gang Task Force has been working with doctors and dentists to examine their practices in prescribing drugs, figure out ways to reduce abuse and educate practitioners and patients about misuse, said Cheryl Wittke, the executive director of the nonprofit Safe Communities.
"There's a direct correlation between the number of opiates in the community and the number of overdose deaths and hospitalizations," Wittke said.