Resources abound for Columbia County residents who need help overcoming substance abuse. That’s the message leaders of Prevention and Response Columbia County want residents to hear first, especially if they are operating on assumptions formed several years ago.
“Four or five years ago a lot of people suffered in silence because there weren’t adequate resources to deal with this crisis,” said Tom Drury, who sits on the prevention group’s board. “We need people to know that’s changing now.”
The group, along with the Tobacco-Free Columbia-Dane County Coalition hosted The State of Substance Abuse informational session Friday at the Columbia County Health and Human Services Building, sharing facts, figures and tips for attendees including city, county and state officials, law enforcement and concerned citizens.
The prevention group is a community coalition that formed in 2015 to address the growing heroin and opioid crisis in Columbia County — a public health concern that “remains at a crisis level and is not going away,” said Drury, who called on increased support from “government at all levels” to address substance abuse issues.
“We do not have the financial resources to do this alone,” he said.
Columbia County residents seeking help for substance abuse should first contact the county’s health and human services department, said director Dawn Woodard. Now more than ever, the county is equipped to steer people in the right direction, she said, whether that’s regarding county programs, access to health care coverage or the resources available elsewhere in the community.
“We’ve done so much work over the past four years,” Woodard said, singling out the county’s medication-assistance program that provides substance abusers with case management and wraparound services.
Multifaceted services — led by Stacy Davenport, Columbia County’s crisis/alcohol and other drug abuse program coordinator — include helping people overcome transportation and housing issues, in addition to addressing the physical addiction itself.
“People will struggle to overcome addiction if they’re also struggling with the daily issues,” Woodard said of the help offered that provides access to medications for overcoming addictions. “We provide rapid response. Within 24 hours of contacting us they will receive a case manager who assesses the appropriateness for our programs.”
Woodard said people may not realize the number of mental health and behavioral health programs available in Columbia County and listed a host of organizations including the Pauquette Center, Aspen Family Counseling, Compass Counseling, Transitions Behavioral Health in Portage and Seasons Counseling in Pardeeville.
The county recently gained its second sober living facility when The Satori House opened in Portage. The county’s other facility is operated by Seasons in Pardeeville. County leaders hope to see even more recovery homes open as education about substance abuse continues to climb, Davenport told the Daily Register in November.
Drury said the local recovery group formed following the rallying efforts of Lodi Police Chief Scott Klicko, who spoke Friday about heroin and opioid trends in the county. Klicko said heroin use has entered new and disturbing terrain due to the additional presence of fentanyl, which is 100 times more potent than heroin. Fentanyl over the past 24 to 36 months has contributed to a significant spike in drug overdoses seen across Columbia County, which includes 15 deaths in 2018.
Portage has experienced at least 28 drug overdoses so far in 2018, and the city regularly makes up one-third of the county’s drug overdoses per year, Klicko said. At the end of November, Portage Police Chief Ken Manthey reported Portage had experienced seven overdoses in six weeks, and all of the overdose victims were revived with the use of Narcan.
“Every heroin addict I’ve spoken to does not wake up saying, ‘I need to get high today,’” Klicko said. “They’re saying ‘I need to survive this day. I need to get just a little bit (of heroin) to get by.’
“As first-responders we’ve learned we can’t arrest our way out of this. We need law enforcement, the courts, health and human services, families, everyone working together.”
Ryan Sheahan from the tobacco-free group in his presentation Friday said 9.8 percent of high school students in Columbia County use e-cigarettes, compared to 13 percent statewide. Users of e-cigarettes are three times more likely to eventually use actual cigarettes — the youngest users drawn to e-cigarettes because of “literally thousands of flavors” of e-liquids, Sheahan said. Recent studies link e-liquids to several dangerous chemicals, including those known to cause cancer, he reported.