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Janesville approaches record heroin and opioid deaths

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Frank Schultz
Wednesday, November 1, 2017

JANESVILLE -- With the holidays looming, Janesville is facing another record-setting year for heroin/opioid deaths.

Police say two probable overdose deaths over the weekend would bring Janesville's death toll from heroin and opioids to 11, compared with 12 deaths in record-setting 2016.

And there's still two months to go in 2017, including the holidays.

Those who work with addicts say the stresses of the holidays can lead to relapses for those trying to stay away from addictive drugs.

“The holidays bring up bad memories for people, and some people tend to turn to drugs and alcohol as an escape from those memories,” said Janesville police officer Chad Woodman, who works with addicts daily, trying to get them to commit to rehab.

Janesville police have confirmed nine heroin/opioid deaths this year. The two probable overdoses on Saturday would bring the total to 11, if toxicology tests confirm evidence at the death scenes, Woodman said.

Woodman could not release many details of the latest cases because they are still under investigation.

One victim was a man in his 30s. One was a female in her mid to late 40s, Woodman said.

It's possible charges could be brought in connection with the deaths, he said.

Heroin is chemically similar to a variety of prescription pain medications, and abuse of those addictive medicines often leads to heroin.

Woodman said eight of the nine confirmed overdose deaths in Janesville this year involved fentanyl, possibly combined with heroin. The ninth was an overdose of pills.

Fentanyl was also likely a major factor in the rash of overdose deaths last year, officials have said.

“Fentanyl is increasingly mixed with diluents and sold as heroin, often with no heroin present in the product,” the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration wrote in its annual drug-threat assessment, released last week. “Fentanyl also continues to be made more widely available in the form of counterfeit prescription pills marketed for illicit street sales.”

Janesville police have responded to 41 non-fatal overdoses in addition to the nine deaths this year, according to a news release.

“Often, non-fatal overdoses are not reported to the police. As a result, we believe that the actual number of opioid/heroin-related overdoses in the city of Janesville is at least three times higher than reported,” the release states.

Janesville police report arrests in 20 of this year's 50 cases, with charges ranging from violation of probation or parole rules to first-degree reckless homicide for providing the drugs that resulted in a death.

In a related matter, the Rock County Medical Examiner's Department this week responded to a Gazette request for the number of such deaths countywide in 2016.

Barry Irmen of the Medical Examiner's Department told The Gazette in an email that he counted 30 Rock County cases in which an opiate contributed to an accidental death last year.

Most heroin in the United States comes from Mexican poppy fields, which have increased production in response to demand in the United States, according to the national drug-threat assessment.

Most fentanyl and other illegally distributed synthetic opioids, meanwhile, come from illicit labs in China and probably also Mexico, according to the assessment.

“Heroin-involved overdose deaths are high and increasing across the United States, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest,” the assessment states. “Heroin-involved overdose deaths more than quadrupled between 2010 and 2015, with the most recent data indicating that heroin was involved in 12,989 American deaths in 2015.”

The Janesville police news release noted that in addition to arrests, the department's efforts include:

-- Rx Alert, which establishes communication between law enforcement, pharmacies and medical professionals to monitor attempts to fraudulently acquire prescription drugs.

-- The Janesville police homegrown DROP program in which Woodman works to make clear to addicts that their options are death, recovery or prison and seeks to get them into rehab.

-- A prescription drug drop-off/disposal station in the police department lobby at 100 N. Jackson St., one of many in the county.

“Finally, law enforcement alone will not be successful without community support and investment,” the release states.



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