People keep dying, and those who don’t die from opioid overdoses are committing burglaries, robberies, theft and fraud to feed their opioid addictions.
A man charged with burglary in Rock County Court last week was using his student loans to fund his heroin habit, according to a criminal complaint.
The list of terrible things people do to others so they can keep taking the drugs—even after they can’t get high anymore—goes on and on.
Beloit Police Chief David Zibolski said his officers recently encountered a woman who had overdosed a fourth time, soon after giving birth to an addicted child.
Another Beloiter who overdosed for a fifth time was an escapee from the Rock County Jail’s Workender Program, which lets people work off their jail sentences while staying out of jail.
Rock County officials don’t all agree on what should be done next in the fight against opioid addiction.
Zibolski has a radical suggestion. But before talking about that, consider some numbers.
Zibolski’s Beloit Police Department started tracking overdoses Jan. 1, 2017. Through May 31 this year, they have counted 149 overdoses, more than one each week. Eighteen of those were fatal.
Janesville police recorded 109 overdoses from 2017 through July 5 this year, including 44 that were fatalities.
And that’s just the overdoses police know about. Drug users are surviving on their own, often because loved ones keep Narcan/naloxone on hand. The drug can stop an overdose in its tracks.
These cities are not the poster children for the heroin/opioid epidemic. The whole country is immersed in it. Zibolski said Beloit just reflects the larger, frustrating picture.
Just 20 people accounted for 46 of Beloit’s overdoses, that’s almost one-third of the city’s total of 149 overdoses, he said.
Of those 20, six have died.
“So you can see the progression, here, and that’s what I’m trying to point out: To continually administer Narcan and (clean) needles and whatever else sustains life for these folks is not solving the addiction problem, and unsolved, it’s likely to lead to their death,” Zibolski said.
“We’re sustaining addiction. That’s as far as we’ve gone with the problem, and nobody seems to want to push the ball along,” Zibolski said in a recent interview.
Fighting an epidemic
Efforts are being made. Thanks to government grants, Rock County authorities have established medically-assisted treatment programs, using Suboxone or Vivitrol to give people a chance to fight their addictions. Special drug courts help addicts avoid criminal penalties as they work toward sobriety.
Health-care providers are doing a better job when prescribing opioid painkillers. Pill drop boxes are available so medicine cabinets don’t become targets for young people seeking a high.
Janesville even has a police officer dedicated to steering addicts to treatment.
Zibolski doesn’t see the impact. Police and paramedics are still encountering people overdosing in their cars and homes with little indication of improvement.
Legislators have passed laws to help, but Zibolski said the problem seems to have dropped out of legislators’ sights recently.
No place to go
Zibolski’s suggestion starts with in-patient addiction treatment, something that doesn’t exist in Rock or Walworth counties. Those who can afford it or have insurance that covers it have to go to Rockford, Illinois; Madison; or the Milwaukee area.
“Arresting them and sending them to jail will also sustain them for a while, but we have nowhere to go with them, as far as a place where they can be treated and have the opportunity to detox.”
In-patient treatment can help but is not a cure-all, experts say.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s a gold standard, that someone is going to do better if they get inpatient treatment,” said Carlo Nevicosi, deputy director of the Walworth County Department of Health and Human Services.
Inpatient treatment provides an artificial environment where an addict can get clean and learn to stay that way for 30 to 60 days. Then the patient is back in the drug-using environment, Nevicosi noted. Many don’t make it.
For their own good …
Zibolski knows a local government-run inpatient facility would be expensive, but he said it’s vital for the second part of his idea.
Now, people get help when they decide to do so. Zibolski would take that choice away in certain cases.
State statutes allow police to commit people with mental-health problems to a mental institution without their permission, if they can show a danger to the public or to the person with the problems.
Zibolski suggests altering the statutes to allow police to commit repeat overdose victims.
“I would posit that someone who has overdosed multiple times is a danger to themselves or others, as well,” he said. “But we are not able to apply that statute to this situation because there’s no place to put these people.”
An inpatient center “would at least give law enforcement guidelines and authority to say, ‘Look, this your third overdose, and we know from the data that if we don’t do something, you’re likely gonna die. So, you are a danger to yourself, and here’s an inpatient treatment facility, … so you can detox enough to make a lucid decision about your future,’” Zibolski said.
Zibolski made similar comments to his colleagues at a meeting with the Rock County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee recently.
The committee is working to arrange a meeting with local state legislators on this topic in the fall.
Erin Davis of the nonprofit anti-drug abuse organization Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change has collected data suggesting the growth of the problem is slowing.
From 2009-13, Rock County saw a 255% increase in overdose deaths, but from 2013-17, the increase was 47%, Davis said.
On the other hand, Narcan might be saving a lot of people who would have died, masking the true picture.
Davis is working on a report due out later this year that will update the local situation. She has found that Rock County has done a good job on most of what the state recommends, except for one thing.
Most businesses lack a clearly written workplace drug policy and training for supervisors to identify and deal with drug use, Davis said.
As for inpatient treatment, “I would agree that it’s not the silver bullet,” Davis said. “Illinois has a lot of inpatient beds and still has a problem.”
Loveland said it appears more research into involuntary commitments is needed, but some contend those who volunteer to get treated do better.
Loveland favors wider access to medically assisted treatment.
“If we’ve got a silver bullet, I think MAT (medically assisted treatment) is really key,” if it’s coupled with case management, Loveland said. “You need to have that regular contact with people who are willing to help you.”
Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore counsels patience. He sees less prescription painkillers, better education of the public and criminal justice efforts to steer people away from courts and toward treatment as efforts that will take five or more years to have their effect.
Even now, Janesville overdoses seem to be leveling off, if not declining, Moore said, and he suspects local efforts have helped. He agrees more state or federal funding is likely needed.
Chad Woodman has been the Janesville Police Department’s DROP (death, recovery or prison) officer for almost four years. He builds trust and keeps in touch with addicts, hoping to steer them to treatment when they’re ready. He also talks to high school students about the dangers.
“I understand Chief Zibolski’s frustration with it,” Woodman said. “I do feel grassroots efforts in the community are best.”
One problem is where the victims live: “How do you expect to get clean if it’s always around you?” Woodman said.
He works to find them stable housing during recovery.
Ideally, Woodman would like a place where people could detox for a month or more, then a halfway house where they could build life skills. The problems include lack of funding and awareness, he said.
“Drugs have hijacked their lives for so long that it’s hard for them to get back on track, and unfortunately it’s easy for communities to forget about them,” Woodman said.
Janesville, meanwhile, is on a pace to have fewer overdoses this year than the two previous years, but it’s early.
“I’m hoping it’ll be down,” Woodman said.
For the long run, Woodman said he would put his money into addiction research because for all the efforts, no one has found the perfect solution.