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Drug addiction help in Marathon County changes during pandemic as Wisconsin sees increase in Opioid overdoses

Published: Jul. 5, 2020 at 3:38 PM CDT
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MARATHON COUNTY, Wis. (WSAW) - Department of Health Services data shows there has been a dramatic increase in Wisconsin’s suspected Opioid overdoses. Experts say the numbers were rising early this year, then made much worse by the pandemic and economic shutdown.

While there are concerns in the county about overdoses where someone didn’t die, Marathon County hasn’t seen as many deadly Opioid overdoses this year, compared to other parts of the state.

“Substance use and addiction definitely does not take a back seat during COVID. It’s something that is ever-present,” said Melissa Moore, prevention specialist for the Marathon County Health Department.

Moore is part of the county's fatal overdose review team, which she says has had to change around meetings because of COVID-19.

“Marathon County has not seen the increase that was shown in other areas of the state,” she said in reference to the number of suspected Opioid overdoses.

There have been 4 deadly overdoses in marathon county and one related to opiates. DHS numbers indicate opioid overdoses in Wisconsin have jumped 48% from January to May, compared to the same time frame in 2019.

“Access to services such as residential treatment, recovery support services and harm reduction strategies like access to Naloxone, for example, to reverse overdoses, has been impacted by COVID,” Moore said. “Things like fear, anxiety, all of those things could impact the amount of use.”

The shutdown of services in response to COVID-19 happened quickly, she said, likely pulling the rug of support out from under addicts' feet.

"When it came to the response to COVID, we all had to respond very quickly. Changing things like in-person appointments to telehealth really did change the way that services were delivered for individuals that are seeking recovery, new to recovery or struggling with their addiction," she said.

Moore says some aspects of telehealth can be expanded to reach addicts in the future and be another option for treatment. But others without internet or a phone are isolated by online-only services.

“That need for innovation, that need for continuing to get people connected around this issue is incredibly important,” she said.

Copyright 2020 WSAW. All rights reserved.

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