New 'opioid alerts' issued to combat drug epidemic in Wisconsin

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A new effort is now underway to alert local authorities, from police to hospitals, when there's a sudden increase in suspected overdoses involving heroin or other opioids.

State officials think real-time knowledge will make a big difference in our community.

In Brown County squad cars, deputies all carry Narcan, the drug used to save a life in an opioid overdose.

They've used it 15 times since 2017, often in rural areas where deputies arrive before paramedics.

The agency says the state's new opioid alert system can only help it be ready if there's a spike in overdoses.

"We're always prepared for that if something were to happen in the emergent issue that might pop up," says Captain Dan Sandberg with the Brown County Sheriff's Office. "Where I see this more is starting to try and pinpoint a pattern that would probably help the investigative side."

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services issues these opioid alerts when it notices a spike in suspected overdoses over a seven-day period.

Hospital emergency departments across the state enter overdose data in a system called BioSense, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention implemented about 15 years ago for emergency preparedness.

It's now expanded to drug overdoses.

The database is continually collecting and scanning data and immediately triggers an opioid alert when it notices increased drug activity in specific counties or regions.

The DHS program director says immediacy is critical.

"They have an opportunity to strategize and plan and respond to that in a more timely and better way," says Paul Krupski, director of opioid initiatives with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

That could mean making more Narcan available in that area or having treatment and counseling resources ready to go.

"This is just one more level where we're trying to attack the opioid epidemic," says Dr. Paul Pritchard, Prevea Health vice president and chief quality officer.

When there are overdoses, not every hospital or police department is always aware.

This system is supposed to fill that gap.

"Just being aware so if you see strange behaviors in a patient or symptoms you're not really understanding, maybe just having an increased awareness that there's an uptick in a particular condition, it's top of mind," says Pritchard.

It's still very new, with the first alert issued in another part of the state December 10, but local officials believe it will make a difference.

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