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The pandemic is contributing to a rise in overdoses, but it's not the only cause


MADISON, Wis. -- Calls for suspected overdoses are on the rise in Dane County. While the issue can partly be blamed on the isolation and loneliness brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, that's not the main cause.

According to data from Dane County Emergency Management, first responders have been called for 693 patients suspected of overdosing on opioids from January 1 to July 5, 2020. In that same time period in 2019, there were 426 patients.

"You can't jump to conclusions here and say it's all covid related because that's not necessarily true," said Joe Balles, project coordinator for Madison Police Department's Madison Addiction Recovery Initiative. "(The data) clearly indicates that something started early this year."

The drugs are also getting more dangerous. Balles said Madison Police officers are finding more substances laced with fentanyl.

"People don't necessarily know what they're getting. Maybe they've been getting a purer form of heroin historically and then they get a batch that unknown to them is heavily cut with fentanyl," said Cory Divine, a clinical substance abuse counselor at Connections Counseling.

Divine contributes a lot of the increase in overdoses to fentanyl.

"When you're getting this stuff, it's another level," he said.

Balles said tackling this issue is like a marathon, where the finish line keeps getting moved back.

"It looks like we're in for a long haul here well into 2021. We're only going to have more increased isolation for those that are really struggling with addiction," said Balles.

Divine said even though recovery has changed from in-person group sessions to online, help is still available.

"We're not going anywhere. Treatment providers are here. It's a different format, it's a different thing, but the support is just as available as ever," said Divine.