Recovery coaches to work with drug overdose patients at St. Mary’s

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In an effort to stem Dane County’s opioid abuse epidemic, recovery coaches will start working at SSM Health St. Mary’s emergency room next month to help patients who have overdosed get treatment and become sober, officials announced Tuesday.

The pilot program, funded by $15,000 from Dane County, $15,000 from the Theda and Tamblin Clark Smith Family Foundation and $7,500 from the Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation, will be run by Safe Communities Madison-Dane County.

Recovery coaches — people who have struggled with addiction and recovered, and are trained in basic counseling and interviewing — will be available on call at St. Mary’s Friday nights through Monday mornings, when overdoses frequently occur.

The program is expected to work with an estimated 75 people who will overdose on heroin or other opioids, such as fentanyl and oxycodone, by March or April, said Cheryl Wittke, executive director of Safe Communities.

“We cannot overstate the importance of interventions at points of crisis for those that suffer with the disease of addiction,” Skye Tikkanen, drug poisoning prevention program manager at Safe Communities, said in a statement. “This program will not only connect the patient with ongoing treatment resources, but the recovery coaches will also follow the patient until they are able to begin treatment.”

Wisconsin’s drug overdose death rate is about the same as the country’s, but the state’s rate has grown faster than the nation’s in recent years.

In 2015, Wisconsin had 872 drug overdose deaths; 614 of them were from opioids, including 281 from heroin, according to the state Department of Health Services.

Dane County had 29 fatal overdoses in 2015, up from 26 in 2014 but down from 40 in 2013.

From January to July, the Madison Fire Department responded to 288 calls for suspected heroin and opioid overdoses.

That is 2½ times greater than the number of such incidents reported during the same period last year.

In addition to the $15,000 Dane County Executive Joe Parisi has included for the recovery coaches program in his proposed budget for 2017, the budget also includes two more opiates counselor positions to help nonviolent addicts get treatment and rehabilitation instead of going to jail.

The positions would double the program’s capacity.