How local treatment centers are battling drug overdose epidemic

WATCH: Treatment centers deal with record overdoses
WATCH: Treatment centers deal with record overdoses
Published: Jan. 1, 2021 at 2:45 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - We all have hope that 2021 will bring better times and better health for everyone.

It also brings about hope to reverse the troubling trend in 2020 that saw increased opioid addictions and overdoses.

Work is underway to not just treat, but prevent addictions, especially in schools and rural areas.

A new CDC report, released in mid-December, shows more people died of drug overdoses in a single year, ending in May of 2020, than ever recorded.

That number? 81,000 lives lost across the country.

While that doesn’t account for deaths during the majority of the pandemic, the death toll is sending alarms to local drug counselors and treatment centers, who’ve already been seeing the pandemic’s impact.

“We’ve seen increased deaths by suicide. We’ve seen increased overdoses. We’ve seen increased need for treatment at the very time, really, where our medical resources are stretched,” says Jeff Stumbras, Executive Director of Behavioral Health for HSHS in Eastern Wisconsin, Libertas Treatment Center and Prevea Health.

Stumbras points to Wisconsin’s battle -- a more than 20-percent increase in overdose deaths and a 50 percent increase in OD deaths involving synthetic opioids, like Fentanyl.

We’ve reported on the concern for months, but the new data underscores the continued need for treatment, recovery and especially prevention.

“I will say COVID has made it worse for this population,” says Stumbras.

He says the first step in attacking the problem is teamwork.

One million dollars from a recent grant is helping provide new options.

“Part of what the grant that we have has been able to do is allow us to hire somebody who works specifically with the superintendents of all the school systems in five counties north of Brown County,” explains Stumbras. “Because no school system alone has the resources to do this.”

There’s also more focus on bringing police, the courts and fire or EMS workers, especially in rural areas, to join the effort.

Not only do rural communities often have less resources, that collaboration helps provide even more paths to connecting people to treatment early.

In the new year, we’ll also start seeing even more telehealth options for treatment.

Stumbras hopes that’s the gateway to keeping people in recovery.

“Part of the grants that we have allow us to train more peer support specialists, which are those people with lived-experience who have walked that path of recovery, who have a willingness and a commitment to bring other people through that door of recovery,” says Stumbras.

2021 will also bring more prevention methods, like more access to Narcan and messages to reduce the stigma of opioid use disorders in the first place.

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