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SPECIAL REPORT: recovery coaches weigh in on stats showing progress with fatal ODs

A recent study showed life expectancy is up for the first time in four years, from 78.6 years on average in 2017 to 78.7 years in 2018. Over that same time, the number of fatal drug overdoses reported in the U.S. dropped by more than 4%, the first decrease we’ve seen in decades in this country.

Jesse Quade and Joseph Galey are recovery coaches for people who struggle with addiction in the Madison area. They do it because they know what how important it is to have support from people who actually understand what they’re going through. Quade has been sober for three years and Galey is celebrating more than two years of sobriety.

They take the positive statistics with a grain of salt.

“It's great that it's going down. It's proving that the work we're doing is critical. It's groundbreaking, it's working,” Galey said. “But in the overall scheme, in communities, we're still losing people.”

According to Madison narcotics officers, the number of reported overdoses went down from 275 in 2018 to 246 in 2019. That’s the first decrease the department has seen year-to-year since it started tracking that data.

The number of fatal overdoses police responded to also dropped. The city saw 42 deaths due to overdose in 2018 and 29 overdose deaths last year, a decrease of more than 30%.

While those numbers are reassuring, Quade would like to see more resources in more rural areas of the state.

“I see death more often than I guess the normal person, so it's hard to believe that it has gone down,” Quade said. “I mean, I hope it does.”

Law enforcement say the availability of naloxone, or Narcan, could be a significant factor in seeing fewer drug-related deaths. The nasal spray can save someone from a fatal overdose, and now, civilians can access it and be trained in how and when to administer Narcan.

Quade and Galey both agree naloxone likely has something to do with the declining number of fatal overdoses around the country and here in Madison.

“You can't recover if you're dead. So first and foremost, keeping people alive long enough so they can access that treatment when they're ready,” Galey said.

The two advocates also say the process of recovery takes a lot more than a miracle drug. Quade knows that firsthand.

“I'm here today because of it,” Quade said, “but if it wasn't for all of the other areas of treatment, Narcan alone isn't going to work. You know, it enabled by breathing. Great. But it's not going to get me into recovery.”

It’s why Quade and Galey keep working hard to expand services. For instance, Galey has been working with UW Behavioral Health for a little more than a year on a program that would help people get immediate access to medically-assisted addiction treatment. That includes a network of primary doctors, psychologists, case managers, and peer specialists without the weeks-long wait it can take to schedule appointments.

It also comes down to public perception, which Galey believes is changing.

“We're looking at this as a disorder for someone and not, like I said, a moral failing,” Galey said.

Galey and Quade say there’s still a lot of work to be done, whether that means ensuring there are resources outside of Dane County or making sure jails have policies that set incarcerated individuals up for success once they’re back in society. That said, they want to remind people that there is hope and help available to anyone who might need it.

“That's why I keep doing it. It brings hope to others and myself. It helps me maintain and keep a solid recovery,” Galey said.