Record number of people saved from overdoses in Brown County in 2021

Published: Jan. 5, 2022 at 5:31 PM CST
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BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - A record number of lives were saved in Brown County last year at the hands of deputies using Narcan on people who were overdosing.

Narcan is the opioid-reversing drug used to try and save someone from dying of a drug overdose.

Authorities attribute the increase to much more than just a rise in the number of people addicted to drugs.

“In the last two years, it’s exploded compared to the first three years since we started this program,” says Captain Dan Sandberg with the Brown County Sheriff’s Office.

Sandberg tracks deployments of Narcan for his agency.

It’s often the patrol deputies he leads that respond to 911 calls or welfare checks of people suspected of overdosing on drugs.

Before the pandemic began, in 2019, the Brown County Sheriff’s Office used Narcan only three times.

That’s just a little lower than the average they’d seen since they started carrying that life saving drug in 2017.

In 2021, amid rapidly rising rates of addiction we’ve continually reported on, deputies used Narcan a record 21 times.

Each one, Sandberg says, resulted in a saved life.

“They’re shooting up and taking these drugs right in parking lots. They’re getting it from the drug dealer and can’t even wait to leave and they’re in parking lot, shooting up and overdosing right there,” he explains.

In more rural parts of the county, where deputies often arrive to an emergency before an ambulance, he’s not surprised to see higher numbers.

But he doesn’t think this trend is just because more people are using illegal drugs.

It’s the kinds of drugs, mixed together, he says leads to more potentially lethal doses.

“People are taking drugs and they don’t know what’s in that drug,” he says. “A lot of it’s getting laced with fentanyl and it’s higher amounts than they even realize, so then they think they’re putting an amount that’s going to be okay, and they’re not because they don’t know what’s in that drug.”

“It’s been frustrating to get people into treatment, just with the lack of resources, the lack of funding, as well as just feeling really hopeless,” says Samantha Kornowski, clinical substance use counselor at Libertas.

“I think addiction flourishes in isolation,” says Tina Marie Baeten, clinical supervisor with the Jackie Nitschke Center.

Both counselors at those treatment centers in Green Bay agree more people need treatment, and after the holidays, more may seek it, but sticking with something that takes a lot of hard work for a very long time is hard for many people.

“There’s a sincere delusion, a process by nature of drugs that medicate and anesthetize, that people become unaware of how significant it is,” says Baeten.

“Just the intense anxiety, the depression, the hopelessness,” lists Kornowski. “I mean, typically as human beings, we want instant gratification. We want things to happen right away.”

But becoming and staying drug-free isn’t instant, and there are relapses.

Treatment facilities are not surprised to see Narcan use increase as people mix drugs like meth or cocaine with fentanyl, intentional or not, leading to more overdoses from the highly potent drug.

“Even kind of an apathy around what is being used because that high is being sought so rigorously because... I need to feel that buzz now, and there isn’t as much thought about the caution around it,” explains Baeten.

But for others, Narcan use signifies a turning point.

“It opened their eyes. They saw the light, in a sense, and it really changed their perspective on things,” says Kornowski.

Counselors hope more people want and find that change in the new year.

In the meantime, the sheriff’s office will keep restocking its supply and make sure deputies are ready to use it.

At the rate that’s been happening, Sandberg is thankful for donations the agency receives from the community to help cover much of that cost.

He says a box of Narcan, with two doses inside, costs about $75 for the agency.

“Between expiration dates and just usage, we go through quite a bit in a year,” he says.

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