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Category: Drug Poisoning Prevention

2024 Battle of the Badges

Join us on March 16th, 2024 beginning at 2:00 pm at Madison Ice Arena for the annual Battle of the Badges fundraiser! Admission is $5 and free for children 3 and under. Community Skate from 2:15-3:45 pm, Military All-Star Hockey Game at 4:30 pm, Fire vs Police Showcase Hockey Game beginning at 6 pm. Food, beer, 50/50 raffle, chuck-a-duck, and more available! We can’t wait to see you there!


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Dispose of medications during National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, April 22

pile of empty pill bottles

Help minimize unintentional drug poisoning

Safe Communities Madison-Dane County and the African American Opioid Coalition (AAOC) will host three drug take-back locations in conjunction with National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, Saturday, April 22 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Warner Park, Elver Park and Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

“Research shows that close to 50% of people who misuse prescription drugs for the first time get these medicines from people they know, with or without asking,” said Cheryl Wittke, Safe Communities executive director. “We’re grateful to partner with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Madison Police and the Dane County Sheriff to offer safe disposal opportunities.”

“Unintentional deaths through drug poisoning exceed deaths from motor vehicle crashes in Dane County,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. “I encourage county residents to safely dispose of unwanted or unneeded prescription medications to prevent misuse and accidental poisonings. This is one step we can take to make our community safer.”

The AAOC is focused on addressing the alarming increase in overdose deaths among Black people, which is more than three times the rate among white people according to a 2020 annual report on overdose deaths in Dane County put out by Public Health Madison and Dane County.

This year’s take-back day coincides with Earth Day, providing another reason to clear out forgotten medications. People are discouraged from disposing of medications by flushing or pouring them down the drain to protect our water supplies from contamination.

The following is a list of what items can and cannot be accepted.

Bring: Prescription (controlled and non-controlled) and over-the-counter medications, ointments, patches, non-aerosol sprays, inhalers, creams, vials and pet medications. Leave medications in original pharmacy containers and remove the label or cross off personal information or remove medications from pharmacy containers and place in a resealable bag.

Do Not Bring: Illegal drugs, needles/sharps, aerosol cans, bio-hazardous materials (anything containing a bodily fluid or blood), mercury thermometers, personal care products (shampoo, soaps, lotions, sunscreens, etc.), household hazardous waste (paint, pesticides, oil, gas).

Last fall, Dane County collected almost 400 pounds of medications.

There will be free medication lock boxes and at-home disposal kits available. The AAOC will also be hosting additional take back days on select Sundays in May and June in partnership with various churches. Visit for more information and additional collection locations that are available all year.

Dane County Approves $750,000 Emergency Initiative to Address Opiate & Fentanyl Epidemics

From the Office of Joe Parisi, Dane County Executive, November 18, 2022

The Harm Reduction and Prevention Act, a roughly $750,000 initiative to address opiate and fentanyl related emergencies, will soon infuse much needed supports into the Dane County community, County Executive Parisi announced today. A resolution to fund the legislative package, which includes school prevention and harm reduction curriculum, was approved at last night’s Dane County Board meeting.

“In Dane County, more residents are dying of drug poisoning than ever before. Just one pill laced with fentanyl or another synthetic opiate can take the life of a friend or loved one,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. “Our community must act. The Harm Reduction and Prevention Act builds upon our partnerships and invests hundreds of thousands of dollars into the community to distribute fentanyl testing strips, along with Narcan kits, and increase awareness about these deadly epidemics.”

Deaths involving opiates and fentanyl have steadily increased in Dane County since 2016. In 2021, 149 people in Dane County passed away due to opiate related overdoses—reflecting 86% of all overdose deaths in the county. Opiate related deaths have increased more than 30% in the past five years. Meanwhile, overdose deaths involving fentanyl are up close to 70% in that same timeframe. Fentanyl was determined to be a contributing factor in over three quarters of the county’s overdose deaths in 2021.

In recognition of the continued scourge of opiates and fentanyl in the Dane County community and the harm they continue to cause families, this initiative will:

  • In partnership with Safe Communities and Dane County school districts, pilot developmentally appropriate prevention and harm reduction curriculum through Life Skills and Safety First programing to better serve elementary though high school students. Using an evidence-based approach, Safe Communities will partner with local schools on debuting the new education courses, which focus on building resiliency, identifying risk, being safe, etc. and include interactive modules for older students.
  • Increase awareness and community education about the dangers of fentanyl and opiates.
  • Partner with community organizations to provide widespread distribution of Narcan and fentanyl test strips.
  • Create a dedicated prevention specialist position within the Dane County Department of Emergency Management to oversee the development of a Narcan “leave behind” program where EMS agencies can leave Narcan rescue kits at the scenes of overdoses.
  • In partnership with Safe Communities, embed Dane County Recovery Coaches within local hospitals and potentially the Dane County 911 Center to reduce the time between when an overdose occurs and when an individual first makes contact with a professional who can help them begin the path of addiction treatment/recovery.
  • Create a prevention coordinator at the OutReach LGBTQ+ Community Center to serve as a direct liaison to a number of communities, providing more awareness and prevention services to populations disproportionately impacted by overdoses/fentanyl poisoning.

This initiative totals around $750,000 and is in addition to the approximately $1.6 million Dane County currently allocates in opiate settlement funding for opiate treatment, prevention, and recovery efforts.

As part of the Harm Reduction and Prevention Act, Dane County will invest $159,900 in media and community outreach efforts. The following groups will receive funding to provide med lock boxes, Narcan, and/or fentanyl test strips: African American Opioid Coalition ($100,000), Pride in Prevention Coalition ($50,000), Recovery Coalition of Dane County ($10,000), Dane County Senior Focal Points ($15,000), and various housing providers ($10,000). $120,000 will also be allocated for school life skills/harm reduction curriculum.

A second portion of the Dane County Harm Reduction and Prevention Act—totaling $283,500—will be funded in the County Executive’s 2023 budget. Of that total, $115,000 will go to create a Prevention Coordinator position at the OutReach LGBTQ+ Community Center. Approximately $110,000 will establish a prevention specialist position within the Dane County Department of Emergency Management. This individual will work with local EMS agencies on opiate and fentanyl response initiatives in the coming years. $10,000 will go to the Narcan “leave behind” program, while an additional $40,000 will go to school life skills/harm reduction curriculum next year.

SSM Health’s ED2Recovery program faces rising overdoses due to Fentanyl

This article originally appeared on and can be found here.
Colton Molesky | WMTV-Madison

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – An SSM Health St. Mary’s program is continuing to battle addiction and overdoses in the face of rising numbers due to the prevalence of Fentanyl in Wisconsin. The SSM Health’s ED2Recovery program partners with Safe Communities and works to give people who are suffering from addiction all the tools to fight back.

“It’s continued to be a significant issue for us; it’s many fentanyl and heroin at this point,” said SSM Health ED medical director Dr. Kyle Martin. “It’s just kind of a vicious cycle.”

According to a recent report from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, 91% of opioid overdose deaths were attributed to Fentanyl, as were 73% of all overdose deaths. From 2019 to 2021, overdose deaths increased by 97% in Wisconsin. It is those numbers the program is battling, starting treatment right at the bedside in the emergency department.


“That allows them to form a close relationship, and that continues on after they’ve left the emergency department; the recovery coach stays on and keeps in touch with them and connects them to various resources in the community,” said Dr. Martin.

Because of the growing Fentanyl crisis, recovery coaches say there is even more pressure to help people struggling with addiction battle the disease before the worst happens.

“You might not get it on the second, third, or fourth time, but with this drug out here, it might be limiting your chances,” said recovery coach Tyrees Scott.

DPP peer provider team manager Tanya Kraege says the advantage the program has is the life experience of the coaches. The recovery coaches have battled addiction themselves, now turning around and showing others the route out.

“Lived experience is their superpower,” said Kraege. “Having somebody show up and say, ‘I’ve been there, I know what it’s like to struggle, I’m here to walk with you,’ there’s just some relief automatically in the eyes of that person.”

Kraege says the program currently serves 312 people. Despite the rising challenges, she says the success rate is 80%. Kraege explains the program measures success by the life goals accomplished while fighting substance abuse.

Recent Surge in U.S. Drug Overdose Deaths has Hit Black Men the Hardest

Black man upset holding head in hands

Oringinal article by John Gramlich
Original Article can be found here: Recent surge in U.S. drug overdose deaths has hit Black men the hardest

Nearly 92,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2020, marking a 30% increase from the year before, a 75% increase over five years and by far the highest annual total on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Preliminary figures suggest that the 2021 death toll from overdoses may be even higher.

While overdose death rates have increased in every major demographic group in recent years, no group has seen a bigger increase than Black men. As a result, Black men have overtaken White men and are now on par with American Indian or Alaska Native men as the demographic groups most likely to die from overdoses.

There were 54.1 fatal drug overdoses for every 100,000 Black men in the United States in 2020. That was similar to the rate among American Indian or Alaska Native men (52.1 deaths per 100,000 people) and well above the rates among White men (44.2 per 100,000) and Hispanic men (27.3 per 100,000). The overdose death rate among men was lowest among Asians or Pacific Islanders (8.5 per 100,000).

As recently as 2015, Black men were considerably less likely than both White men and American Indian or Alaska Native men to die from drug overdoses. Since then, the death rate among Black men has more than tripled – rising 213% – while rates among men in every other major racial or ethnic group have increased at a slower pace. The death rate among White men, for example, rose 69% between 2015 and 2020.

As has long been the case, women in the U.S. are less likely than men to die from drug overdoses. But death rates have risen sharply among women, too, especially Black women. 

Chart of drug overdose death among black men in the US

The overdose fatality rate among Black women rose 144% between 2015 and 2020, far outpacing the percentage increases among women in every other racial or ethnic group during the same period.

Despite the steep rise in the overdose death rate among Black women, American Indian or Alaska Native women continued to have the highest such rate in 2020, as has been the case for most of the past two decades. There were 32 overdose deaths for every 100,000 American Indian or Alaska Native women in 2020, compared with 21.3 deaths for every 100,000 White women and 18.8 deaths for every 100,000 Black women. Fatality rates were much lower among Hispanic women (7.5 per 100,000) and Asian or Pacific Islander women (2.7 per 100,000).

The racial groups in this analysis include people of one race, as well as those who are multiracial. All death rates are adjusted to account for age differences between U.S. demographic groups. For more information about the methodology, read the “How we did this” box.

Overdose deaths have risen sharply during the pandemic

While overdose deaths in the U.S. were on the rise long before the outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020, such fatalities have accelerated during the pandemic, the CDC has noted.

Nationwide, the monthly number of drug overdose deaths had never exceeded 6,500 before March 2020. Between March and December 2020, there were more than 7,100 such deaths each month, including nearly 9,400 in May 2020 alone.

Experts have pointed to several possible reasons for the increase in overdose deaths during the outbreak, including less access to treatment and a rise in mental health problems associated with the pandemic.

The opioid epidemic has also played an important role in the soaring number of overdose deaths, both during the pandemic and in the years leading up to it. Three-quarters of all fatal overdoses in 2020 involved opioids, with more than six-in-ten involving synthetic opioids – a category that includes fentanyl, a potent pain relief drug that is commonly manufactured and sold illegally.

 The overdose fatality rate involving synthetic opioids rose nearly sixfold between 2015 and 2020, from 3.1 to 17.8 deaths per 100,000 people.

Monthly drug overdose death chart

Earlier waves of opioid overdose deaths in the U.S. involved heroin and prescription opioids, respectively.

Death rates have also risen sharply in recent years for overdoses involving stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine. The fatality rate for overdoses involving cocaine nearly tripled between 2015 and 2020, from 2.1 to 6.0 deaths per 100,000 people. 

The fatality rate for overdoses involving methamphetamine and other psychostimulants more than quadrupled between 2015 and 2020, from 1.8 to 7.5 deaths per 100,000 people. These deaths have disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minority groups.

Even as overdose deaths have soared, public concern about drug addiction in the U.S. has ticked down, according to Pew Research Center surveys. In early 2018, 42% of U.S. adults said drug addiction was a major problem in their community, but that percentage declined to 35% in October 2021.

Around four-in-ten Black (42%) and Hispanic adults (41%) said in the 2021 survey that drug addiction was a major problem in their community, compared with smaller shares of White (34%) and Asian adults (20%).

Drug addiction chart

CORRECTION (Jan. 21, 2022): An earlier version of this analysis, including a chart headline, incorrectly said that Black men were the demographic group most likely to die from drug overdoses in 2020. The fatality rate among Black men in 2020 was similar to the rate among American Indian or Alaska Native men but did not statistically exceed it.

#EndOverdose: Advocates Bring Awareness to Dane County’s Ongoing Opioid Overdose Epidemic

End overdose images

This article by Maggie Ginsberg originally appeared in the December 2021 Edition of Madison Magazine. To view the original article, click here.

Even as the crisis worsens in Dane County and overdose deaths across the country approached 100,000 in a 12-month period for the first time ever, some promising harm reduction initiatives are giving rise to something else: Hope.
Opioid overdose deaths have nearly doubled in Wisconsin since 2014, due to skyrocketing fentanyl poisonings and a pandemic season that has aggravated the factors that drive substance use disorder and keep people locked in the cycle of addiction. Even as the crisis worsens in Dane County and overdose deaths across the country approached 100,000 in a 12-month period for the first time ever, some promising harm reduction initiatives are giving rise to something else: Hope.

Row after row of white flags line the sidewalk along Olbrich Park, as far as the eye can see. Surrendered and still on a windless night in late August, heavy with scrawled names and brokenhearted messages, each flag has been placed there by a loved one. This is the fourth annual International Overdose Awareness Day Remembrance event, organized by Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County, and the event’s message is clear from the scattered signs and T-shirts that say, simply, “#EndOverdose.”

Down on the sprawling grass leading toward Lake Monona, a microphone waits for a lineup of speakers while half a dozen tents shade the sponsoring organizers and participants. The Wisconsin Recovery Advocacy Project is here, drawing attention to a policy platform that includes calling on lawmakers to restore the portion of the 911 Good Samaritan Law that reverted last year so that it no longer protects an overdosing person from arrest. The African American Opioid Coalition of Dane County is also here, working to address the fact that, although community sentiment took a more compassionate turn toward treatment versus incarceration after the opioid epidemic ravaged white suburban communities, communities of color are still overincarcerated for drugs of all kinds — and Black individuals in Dane County are dying from opioid poisonings at an alarmingly higher rate.

Two tents down, staff members from ARC Community Services are handing out free boxes of the lifesaving overdose-reversal drug naloxone, better known by its brand name, Narcan. Among the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 10 evidence-based strategies for preventing opioid overdose, targeted naloxone distribution is listed first. They’re also giving out hard-to-come-by fentanyl test strips — even though possessing them is technically illegal because they’re considered “drug paraphernalia” under state law (another thing the Recovery Advocacy Project wants to change) — because they want to empower people to test their substances before using. Measures like this are what’s known as harm reduction — “a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use,” according to the National Harm Reduction Coalition — and it’s steering nearly every organization’s efforts here today.

Lethally potent and profoundly addictive, fentanyl now permeates the local drug supply, showing up in everything from heroin to cocaine and meth to cannabis, and even in counterfeit prescription pain pills. In 2014, 10% of opioid overdose deaths in Dane County involved fentanyl or other synthetic opioids. By 2017, that portion had grown to more than half.

In 2020, it exploded to 86%.

In May 2019, fentanyl-laced marijuana was responsible for the fatal overdose of C.J. Tubbs, son of Charles Tubbs, Dane County’s director of emergency management systems. This was part of the impetus, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi will explain in a later phone call, for the push to create the Behavioral Health Resource Center that opened in November 2020 and the newly announced Crisis Triage Center for which Parisi has set aside $10 million in his 2022 budget. “Because even someone as connected as Charles Tubbs and his family found themselves in situations with their son … late at night … having a behavioral health challenge … not really sure who to call,” Parisi says.

Tubbs speaks at this event, his tone somber as he describes his wife finding their beloved son’s body when she went to wake him for dinner. It marked the end of a long and troubled journey for family members, who struggled with how best to help, as so many do. “In my professional career, I’ve delivered that death notice to families probably hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times,” Tubbs tells the crowd. “I never thought I would experience it myself.”

It’s an all too familiar story for those gathered at Olbrich Park — you never think it will happen to you or your loved one, until it does. They’re here to listen, to collectively mourn, to grapple for answers and look for comfort among people who get it — and to find hope in the efforts on display. As overwhelming as it feels — and as impossible as it would be to provide a comprehensive picture of all of the organizations across Dane County that are working hard on this issue — a few groups are making headway with new approaches to the old, painful, wildly complex issue we now call substance use disorder.

The Rise of Peer Recovery Coaches

“I really started to see it, feel it, in January 2021. I felt like every day I was losing somebody, either personally or professionally, either to COVID, to a drug poisoning or to suicide,” says Tanya Kraege, a crisis clinician at Journey Mental Health and a peer recovery program manager at Safe Communities. In addition to factors like fentanyl and the impact the pandemic had on things like job and housing insecurity, Kraege speculates that when the vaccines arrived and the shutdowns began to lift, people who’d been living with unaddressed trauma came out of survival mode and endured an overwhelming rush of emotions. Kraege saw people with multiple years in recovery return to using — a sort of delayed response to a long year of isolation, a lack of control, and an inability to access in-person support groups and treatment providers.

But at the same time, Kraege had a front-row seat to the rise of the peer recovery coach movement, a relatively new model that represents a bright spot in recovery efforts. Peer support specialists or recovery coaches are trained and often certified community members who share their own experiences with substance use disorders. “The power of peer support is their lived experience,” Kraege says. “They get to speak a little bit more freely when it comes to self-disclosure than I as a clinician could do. To be able to say, ‘I’ve been there. I’ve walked in similar shoes. And I’m here to walk alongside you.’ ”

Safe Communities first piloted peer recovery coaches at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital – Madison in 2016 with a project called Emergency Department to Recovery, or ED2Recovery. If someone landed in the emergency room after a drug poisoning, they could choose to meet someone with shared lived experiences. If they said yes, Safe Communities sent a peer support coach to the hospital to serve as a trusted guide through whatever that person needed next. Nobody knew what to expect. One ER doctor said he would have been happy with a 25% or 30% success rate — but 90% of participants became connected to treatment options after getting out of the hospital.

Since then, not only has ED2Recovery expanded to include every hospital emergency department in Dane County, Safe Communities has also developed even more peer support programs that Dane County now funds (after a proposed $100,000 increase in 2022) at a level of $500,000 per year. Those programs are called Jail2Recovery, a partnership with Dane County Jail and Journey Mental Health Center for those currently or recently incarcerated; Diversion2Recovery, for people going through drug court, OWI court or pre-arrest diversion programs; All2Recovery, which connects peer coaches with existing organizations such as Centro Hispano of Dane County, JustDane or OutReach LGBTQ+ Community Center; Pregnancy2Recovery, which includes a coach who is also a doula; and TRC2Recovery, for those in treatment centers who request continuing support (in 2022, the latter three are combining to form Communities2Recovery). Safe Communities now employs 18 peer providers, including one devoted exclusively to working with affected family members. In 2020, Kraege says peers provided 5,649 service hours. By October 2021, service hours had already doubled to 11,888.

“We want to meet people in the community, meet them where they’re at,” says Kraege, listing places like parks, coffee shops, shelters and libraries. From there, it’s whatever they want — maybe accompanying them to a recovery meeting or one of Madison’s four state licensed centers for Medications for Addiction Treatment, or MAT, or helping with things like job applications and housing. Or maybe it’s just to talk — especially with someone they identify with.

Here in Dane County, where Black people are overdosing on opioids at a rate of 73.8 per 100,000 as compared to 21.1 per 100,000 for white people, one group in particular — the African American Opioid Coalition, or AAOC — is hiring peer recovery coaches who look like the people they’re trying to reach.

Culturally Specific Recovery Efforts

“What we need right now is more recovery coaches looking like them, which we’ve been able to do,” says Charlestine “Ms. Charlie” Daniel, Safe Communities Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Falls and Drug Poisoning Prevention Program Coordinator and the founder of AAOC. Since 2017, the AAOC’s primary focus is improving the overall wellness of Black families by educating and raising awareness about opiate addiction — including hiring Black peer recovery coaches. “We are African Americans talking to African Americans,” she says.

Although she hasn’t experienced substance use disorder herself, Daniel founded the AAOC out of love for her community and, she admits, frustration. Although everyone agrees that families coming forward to help humanize the opioid epidemic throughout the 2010s was a good and brave thing that led to policy changes and public awareness, it also made something else painfully clear.

“We have African Americans who are still in prison for crack cocaine, and they were never, never offered treatment,” Daniel says, describing how it felt to watch the public rally around high-profile examples of affluent white people with substance use disorder over the past decade. “Who was doing this work with African Americans?” Daniel says. “There was no voice for us. And so the AAOC became the voice for our community.”

It’s a response echoed by every source interviewed for this story, including Parisi.

“When the opioid epidemic began, it was a predominantly white epidemic,” says Parisi. “And it’s really an unfortunate commentary that it took that for the nation in general to really start to view drug addiction as an illness and people who are addicted to drugs as people for whom we should have compassion. And, you know, it’s really, on every level, inexcusable.”

Further, Parisi says that drug laws and attitudes toward addiction that pre-date the opioid crisis led to longer prison sentences. “There are people sitting in [prison] today because they were addicted to the ‘wrong’ kind of opioid,” he says.

Meeting with elected officials like Parisi and other policymakers and stakeholders is one of the core components of the AAOC, which Daniel says now has about 25 members. “We have a prominent doctor, we have lawyers, recovery coaches, nurses, you name it,” she says. “It is culturally specific. Our main focus is to improve the overall wellness of Black families when it comes to this disease.”

Daniel also partners with the Dane County Sheriff’s Office to organize the Med Drop Sundays program, making her rounds to different Black churches and collecting parishioners’ old or unused medications. She hands out free medical lockboxes and gives presentations to raise awareness — often to grandparents raising grandchildren because of the drug epidemic — about how their prescriptions can be stolen, sold or used recreationally.

“We are always putting families first because it’s not only the person who is in recovery that’s affected, it’s the family, especially if children are involved,” she says. Despite the disproportionate overdose rates for Black individuals in Dane County — and despite the distrust of white systems and the stigma that remains, not only surrounding addiction but around asking for help — Daniel sees the AAOC already making a difference. “I have seen more African Americans in recovery than ever,” she says.

Public Health Madison Dane County supervisor Dr. Jill Denson became a member of the AAOC shortly after she began attending the state’s overdose fatality review sessions in 2020, where she really became aware of the disproportionate impact of overdose in Black communities.

“Although white people use opioids more, it’s really Black people who are dying from it more often,” says Denson. She says the message still isn’t reaching the full community, such as older Black people who’ve never used heroin but are now dying from fentanyl poisoning when they use cocaine. “We need to reimagine our harm reduction outreach and education to communities that probably think they don’t need that,” says Denson, noting that substance use disorder can cycle through and create damage across generations of families. Education, awareness and empathy are key because you know someone who is struggling, whether you realize it or not. “No matter where you live, no matter who you are, substance abuse affects every single community. It’s professionals, people who are working, who have homes, who have families. It’s anybody you can think of: your neighbor, somebody in your house,” says Denson. “People can keep those things very, very private, very secretive, because of the stigma and shame.”

Harm-Reduction Tools and the Role of Trauma

Denson’s duties include overseeing Dane County’s Syringe Services program, which provides clean, sterile needles and syringes, safe disposal of sharps, some wound care supplies and the distribution of naloxone — “harm reduction tools,” according to PHMDC Chronic Disease Specialist Kathy Andrusz and Disease Intervention Specialist Heidi Olson-Streed, who both work with the program. “These are very basic tools and they help people keep themselves safe,” says Andrusz.

Helping people use drugs safely might seem counterintuitive, but the evidence supports it. Syringe services programs are included in the CDC’s top 10 list, which says, “Nearly 30 years of research shows that comprehensive [syringe services programs] are safe, effective and cost-saving, do not increase illegal drug use or crime, and play an important role in reducing the transmission of viral hepatitis, HIV and other infections.”

PHMDC’s syringe services program began with needle exchanges in 1996 to fill gaps and support the pioneering efforts of the needle exchange (and, more recently, naloxone access) program of the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (formerly AIDS Network and now Vivent Health). But skyrocketing overdoses and a broader population of “more inexperienced or casual drug users” due to fentanyl have driven demand, and PHMDC’s program has become more comprehensive. In addition to distributing tools, Andrusz and Olson-Streed regularly help people solve immediate needs, or simply serve as sounding boards.

“Day to day for our participants, it’s terrifying. There is no safety net for people who are suffering, who are traumatized,” says Olson-Streed, adding that although underlying trauma often causes people to turn to substance use as a coping tool, the consequences of drug use can trigger new, compounding traumas such as housing and food insecurity, incarceration, watching friends die and lack of health care. She says in a perfect world, there would be housing first — “How do you get your life together when you don’t even have a place to sleep where you feel safe?” — and treatment on demand, not only when a person needs it but in the way that they need it. “Not everyone can take a month, two months off from life to recover,” she says.

Andrusz says true harm reduction would also make MAT more available and give people a place to go at the moment they’re seeking recovery. “Even with the primo health insurance that public employees receive in Dane County, there’s still a waiting period for medical recovery services,” she says. “Treatment on demand, even for the most ‘privileged,’ doesn’t exist.”

Olson-Streed says the pandemic has made all of this worse. People are more isolated, more desperate, managing more trauma. She says research has proven that the longer a person is engaged in treatment, the more success they will have — but nobody overcomes addiction without help, and the historical reliance on abstinence-based programs is no longer enough. “It’s a very complex issue, it’s a brain issue, and it’s not always a matter of, ‘Well, just go to these meetings for a couple hours every night after work and, when you feel you need to use, just grit your teeth and get through it,’ ” she says.

Still, while addiction is a chronic problem, people’s lowest points are only moments — moments Olson-Streed works to help them get past. “Whenever a person comes in and wants me to close the door of my office, I know I’m going to hear about something that is traumatic,” she says. “And the only thing I can do, other than refer them to resources, is just listen as a human being with another human being.”

Supporting Multiple Pathways to Recovery

Rebecka Crandall agrees that trauma is at the root of nearly all behavioral health challenges, including substance use disorder — and the trauma doesn’t stop with use itself and its consequences, but extends to formal systems, including treatment providers and jails.

“I think it would be helpful if the community and family members and treatment spaces recognized that treatment trauma is real and valid,” says Crandall, who serves as coordinator of the Hope Project, a program that provides comprehensive opioid treatment services for 50 woman-identifying individuals at no cost to them (made possible by a 2018 state grant). Of those 50 participants in 2021, 57% are people of color, 63% have housing insecurity, more than half receive or qualify for disability and 77% are justice-involved. Most, says Crandall, have some sort of negative experience with prior efforts at recovery but, with the tragic exception of two overdose deaths at the start of the pandemic, most Hope Project participants are still engaged in the program to varying degrees. The Hope Project is flexible, culturally sensitive and acknowledges “body, mind and spirit,” which means something different to each participant — and that’s OK.

“We’re not here to force healing on somebody or force abstinence or force change that they’re not ready to commit to, because that doesn’t work,” says Crandall. “If stigma and sanctioning people was an effective approach to substance use, we wouldn’t be where we are now in this mess.”

The Hope Project is housed within ARC Community Services, a nonprofit services agency operating residential, outpatient and intensive day treatment programs for women, transgender and nonbinary individuals, where counselors are certified in both mental health and addiction. Although ARC’s services are primarily abstinence-based, the Hope Project has no such parameters — and that’s key, says Skye Boughman, a licensed professional counselor who used to work at Safe Communities, where she founded the recovery coaching program; now she’s at ARC trying to combine traditional treatment models with the peer support concept. “It’s a way to bring the treatment system to the people as opposed to having the people have to get to the treatment system,” Boughman says.

That system, she says, remains difficult to access. Residential inpatient facilities are expensive and there still aren’t enough of them; people with insurance still face long waitlists because there aren’t enough beds. And although those with BadgerCare now can get treatment services at residential centers through Medicaid coverage for the first time ever, BadgerCare still doesn’t cover room and board — and the waitlists are even worse. “We’ve had people waiting for, like, eight months. People are dying on waitlists all the time,” Boughman says. There are other barriers, too, such as long intake processes or the requirement that participants not use any substances at all, from medical cannabis to treatments like Suboxone (the brand name for a combination medication containing buprenorphine and naloxone) and methadone. Boughman says that abstinence-only pathways are “incredibly valid” options for some people — but when they’re presented as the only option, too many people are excluded. “I think that abstinence-only models [can be] incredibly harmful to a lot of my community and have increased fatal overdoses across the board,” she says.

Fighting Stigma and Shame to End Overdose

Back at the overdose awareness rally at Olbrich Park, where Boughman and Crandall are handing out Hope Project brochures and those boxes of naloxone and fentanyl testing strips, Kraege is pulling her child in a wagon and Daniel is handing out medical lockboxes; the professional and personal feelings have blurred. The gathered crowd is the choir to which they already preach, and it’s a relief not to have to explain for just one night — to already speak a common language, however anguishing it may be.

“I tell my drug court participants that I’m not your judge,” Mitchell says. “I’m your reflection.”

Barrett, who has been milling through the crowd all night, listening to people talk and collecting naloxone to bring back to his deputies, says that the proposed consolidated jail project would include a medical ward that could make MAT possible. Right now, given the current, outdated facilities, the only treatments in use — nonaddictive, opiate-antagonist injections of naltrexone (brand name Vivitrol) administered prior to release — are not considered narcotics, so they are not subject to as rigorous a regulatory process as Suboxone and methadone would be. Additionally, the Vivitrol program is only available due to a federal grant that includes support from a nurse and social worker, but it is set to expire. In the two years since receiving the grant, Dane County Jail has administered 262 injections. This fall, Barrett also testified in support of Wisconsin Assembly Bill 317, which called for “[evaluating] the appropriateness of medication-assisted treatment” when people are convicted of operating while intoxicated.

“We’re not going to arrest our way out of the issues that we have in society, like addiction and mental health,” Barrett says in a later phone call. “Our City-County Building was built in the 1950s, was designed at that time to do one thing, and that was to punish and to be harsh. We are no longer in that mindset in the criminal justice system. We are about rehabilitation and providing resources and programming to help reduce recidivism that leads to a reduction in crime rates, which leads to an increase in public safety. So that is the ultimate goal. We are here to help. We want to serve. But we need not only the funding; we need the resources to be able to do that and be successful.”

Former Wisconsin Badgers and NFL running back Montee Ball takes the mic. Ball, who is in long-term recovery from alcoholism and is now a certified peer recovery coach, tells of suddenly losing his lifelong best friend to an opioid overdose. “I had no idea he was even struggling with opioids. This guy, every single day, had a smile on his face,” Ball says, reiterating — as all of the speakers do, and as the faces of this crowd reflect — that addiction and overdose can happen to anyone. Any age, any race, any background, any gender, any socioeconomic status.

Tim Togstad approaches the microphone. “Three years ago yesterday, my stepson, Colin, died of an overdose. His flag is out there with so many others,” he says. There is no worse feeling, but Togstad has found some relief in the local chapter of GRASP — Grief Recovery After Substance Passing. He feels less alone, even though the monthly meetings have moved to virtual spaces like so many of the other support groups, recovery meetings and behavioral health appointments. It’s something that has made all of this so much harder — further isolating people at a time when they need connection most. Still, that connection makes a difference. “Grief must be witnessed to just help you move through it,” Togstad says. “Just to process everything that you’ve been through.”

Finally, it’s time for an observed moment of silence. Afterward, one of the Safe Communities certified peer specialist and recovery coaches, Kay Hauser, closes out the ceremony as organizers hand out candles.

“I can’t tell you why my name isn’t on one of these beautiful memorial flags,” Hauser says. “But I can tell you why I’m standing here at this event today: We do recover.”

One by one, candles in hand, crowd members disperse into the darkening night and begin a slow and final walk through the flags. When each finds the flag that brought them here, they place their candle at its base and release the grief. They take all the time they need.

Tonight is for remembering, for mourning.

Tomorrow, the work continues.

Check Your Medication: Medication Review Resources

person looking over their medication

Medications Linked to Falls-Resource from CDC (PDF)

Postural Hypotension-Resource from CDC (PDF)

Wisconsin Pharmacy Quality Collaborative

The Wisconsin Pharmacy Quality Collaborative (WPQC) is an initiative of the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin (PSW) which connects community pharmacists with patients, physicians, and health plans to improve the quality and reduce the cost of medication use across Wisconsin. This team-based approach has brought stakeholders together in a unique collaboration with the goal of ensuring safe and high-quality care to patients in Wisconsin.  WPQC coordinates a network of pharmacies with certified pharmacists who have received specific Medication Therapy Management (MTM) training. WPQC pharmacists meet privately with patients to review medication regimens, communicate potential opportunities to improve medication use with physicians and other health care providers, and educate patients on the appropriate use of their medications. The medication use and safety goals of WPQC are to resolve drug therapy problems, improve adherence and coordination of care, and engage patients in their own care. Click here to access list of WPQC pharmacy locations.

MedDrop Program

Find out where to safely dispose of unused or unwanted medications. MedDrop is a safe, secure way to dispose of unwanted medications which could unintentionally be consumed by children and others, or be scavenged from the trash and sold illegally. MedDrop disposal reduces the amount of improperly disposed medicine that can eventually contaminate area rivers, lakes, and streams. For more information, Click Here.

Dane County Experiencing Increase in Medical Emergencies for Alcohol Overconsumption, Substance Abuse

MADISON, Wis. — Dane County is seeing a significant increase in the number of medical emergencies related to alcohol overconsumption and substance abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic, a release said.

Between Feb. 1 and May 10 there was a 37.9% increase in ambulance calls for people with substance abuse emergencies in comparison to a year ago. There were 666 EMS calls in that time frame, which is 483 more from the same time period a year ago.

“These numbers highlight the countless layers of this global pandemic and its many pervasive impacts on families and our communities,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said. “As we focus on the health and financial well-being of our community, we must make sure people also know about resources like the Recovery Coach program run by Safe Communities to get people help and confront addiction.”

The report from Dane County Emergency Management found there were 18 days in the time period where there were 10 or more 911 calls per day for substance abuse.

“Whether its drugs or alcohol, we know these are challenging times for those who struggle with mental illness and addiction,” said Cheryl Wittke, director of the Safe Communities Coalition. “Our team of recovery coaches have lived experience and know what it’s like to feel hopeless and struggling, making them the perfect community resource right now to help get those who want to change their lives take the first steps toward getting help.”

Those looking to contact a Safe Communities recover coach should email or call (608)-228-1278.

Original Article:
By: Maija Inveiss

People Reaching out for Help via Hotline is Increasing

Coaches say they’re optimistic that they’re helping people navigate the hardships of the pandemic

MADISON, Wis.– Safe Communities recovery coach supervisor Kristina Vaccaro said she lost her close friend to an overdose during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“She was very close to me. She was in recovery and she experienced a relapse and she passed away. She was really involved in all of our events and our overdose campaign that we do in August. She was always there and helping. So this is really tough.”
Vaccaro said her friend had been in recovery for several years and throughout that time, she experienced highs and lows. Although the pandemic can cause added stress for those in recovery and those who are currently using, Vaccaro said she will never know if the pandemic was her friend’s breaking point.

“These are members of our community,” Vaccaro said. “Young members of our community who are family members and friends. It’s heartbreaking.”

While Vaccaro may never know what led to her friend’s relapse, she does know that the pandemic is making many people in recovery consider using again.
Safe Communities recovery coach Rene Simon said the hotline they launched a week ago is “definitely” seeing an uptick in calls from those seeking help.

“My job isn’t to talk somebody out of using at any given moment,” Simon said. “My job is to offer them hope and the possibility that they can stop using if they want to. We don’t want anybody hanging up that phone without at least feeling like they’ve had a chance to connect with a person who is in recovery who understands what they are going through.”

Simon said the first thing she does when she takes a call is thanks the person on the other end because she knows that asking for help from a stranger is difficult.
She then talks with them about what their situation is and asks, “If you want to use right now, what is something else you can do instead?”
Simon and Vaccaro said showing compassion and understanding on top of providing human connection is crucial right now.

Although Simon said it’s heartbreaking to hear that there is an uptick in overdoses, “When we see an increase in opioid deaths, we are [also] grateful to be seeing an uptick in calls because we are able to help those people not end up a statistic.”

The hotline number for Safe Communities is (608)-228-1278. For more information, visit

Original Article:
By: Jamie Perez

New Helpline Reduces Stress Related Alcohol and Drug Use During Coronavirus

Media Contact:
Cheryl Wittke, Executive Director
Safe Communities
(608) 256-6713



Safe Communities 24-7 Recovery Coach Helpline: (608) 228-1278
if incarcerated, call:  888-811-3689 x 1


A new 24/7 helpline is available for Dane County residents thinking about using alcohol and/or other substances or struggling with substance use issues during the coronavirus epidemic. For help, call (608) 228-1278. Calls are free. No insurance is needed.

This service, sponsored by the nonprofit Safe Communities, is for previous alcohol and/or other substance users, those now in treatment or those tempted to start, and those concerned about a loved one. Callers talk confidentially with Recovery Coaches who are not professional therapists but in long-term recovery from their own alcohol or other substance use and have training in how to help others as advocates, peers and confidantes.

“This is a very stressful time for everyone. People are worried about social isolation, getting sick themselves or losing their jobs and income.’ said Tanya Kraege, Manager, Safe Communities Recovery Coaching Program. “They can become vulnerable to alcohol or other substance use to feel better.”

“This is especially true for those who are working to be in recovery or are already in long-term recovery. Relapse rates increase with stress brought on by loss of income, social isolation and anxiety. They may face additional treatment barriers due to coronavirus-related closures of treatment programs and an overwhelmed health care system.”

People living with substance use disorder are overrepresented in the hospitality business, including restaurants. “Hospitality, travel and leisure employees make up 11% of the entire American work force with over 20,000 working in Dane County alone,” said Jason Illstrup, president of Downtown Madison, Inc. “The lives of many hospitality employees turned upside down with the onset of COVID-19. Many are furloughed, working on reduced hours or, worse yet, terminated. Programs like Safe Communities Recovery Coaching Program will provide instant help to those most in need during a time when any helping hand could save a life.”

Although talking to a recovery coach won’t change the circumstances, coaching is a proven strategy to prevent return to use of substances.
Coaches represent all ages and include African Americans, Latinos and LGBTQ. Coaches answer calls themselves and may refer callers to a different coach if someone better fits their experience and concerns.

Safe Communities Executive Director Cheryl Wittke encourages families and friends of persons in recovery to be especially attentive to warning signs that the person might be at risk of return to use. Some of the signs are listed at

The Recovery Coach 24-7 Helpline is an expansion of other highly impactful recovery coaching programs operating in Dane County. These include:

  • ED 2 Recovery: with an 88% referral to treatment rate among people who sign-on with a recovery coach after treatment for an overdose in the emergency room
  • Jail 2 Recovery: which has served nearly 300 people at high risk of overdose after a period of abstinence during incarceration
  • Pregnancy 2 Recovery: which matches pregnant women with coaches who used during pregnancy and are now in recovery
  • Family Coaches: parents who’ve gone through the struggle of navigating a child’s addiction and are now available to provide guidance to parents facing the same challenges.

Funding from Dane County and UW Health/UPH-Meriter/Quartz are making this helpline possible.
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi stated: “Dane County is proud to be the first county in the state to support recovery coaching – a proven strategy to help people with addiction find recovery. Now as we work together to contain the coronavirus, we can’t lose sight of how our opioid overdose epidemic continues to threaten lives, particularly as these two epidemics converge. Through our sponsorship of Safe Communities’ 24-7 Recovery Coaching Helpline, Dane County is extending our commitment to support people through this crisis.”

“UW Health Is pleased to support Safe Communities 24-7 Recovery Coaching Helpline. This critical resource will help our patients and any community member struggling with addiction find help during these stressful times”, said Beth Lonergan, Director of Behavioral Health for UW Health.
Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin and SSM Health are also sponsoring the launch.

Safe Communities is a nonprofit coalition of over 350 organizations working together to save lives, prevent injury and make Dane County safer. Funding is provided by federal, local and foundation grants, project sponsors, memberships and individual donors. For more information and a listing of Sustaining Members, visit


Local recovery groups (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Smart Recovery) are also working to create virtual meetings to support people’s recovery.

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, For Medical Emergency, Dial: 911
For community resources, call United Way: Dial 211.

Journey Mental Health Crisis Line: (608) 280-2600

National Suicide Prevention Line:

1-800-273-TALK (8255)
1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)
Veterans Press 1, En Español Oprima El 2

For people living with mental illness seeking peer support

Solstice House Warm Line: (608) 244-5077;

NAMI Dane County Peer Support: (608) 249-7188



Tanya Kraege, Manager, Safe Communities Recovery Coaching Program
and Safe Communities Recovery Coaches

Jason Ilstrup, Executive Director, Downtown Madison Inc

Steve Starkey, Executive Director, Outreach LGBT Community Center

Dr. Ruben Anthony, Executive Director, Urban League of Greater Madison



Dane County
UW Health/Quartz/UPH-Meriter
Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin
SSM Health
Outreach LGBT Community Center
Urban League of Greater Madison
Downtown Madison Inc.
Destination Madison
Sustaining Members of Safe Communities (see for listing)


Treatment Key

Safe communities has complied a list of abbreviation definitions for finding the right treatment for you.

MAT: Medication for Addiction Treatment.
OP: Outpatient Treatment – person lives at home or in the community, attends. individual and group therapy, these can include or not include MAT.
IOP: Intensive Outpatient Treatment – person lives at home or in the community, attends individual and extended groups, 9-12 hours a week.
Residential: person lives at the facility for a period of at least 14 days, some last as many as 45 days.
PHP: Partial Hospitalization Program is a structured mental health treatment program that runs for several hours each day, three to five days per week.
DBT: Dialectical behavior therapy is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that integrates mindfulness techniques.