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Rock County community groups work to keep up with opioid epidemic

JANESVILLE (WKOW) — Rock County is seeing an increase in overdose hospitalizations in the past two weeks. Dane and Milwaukee counties are dealing with more opioid overdose problems, too.

It’s concerning for advocates who work to fight substance use disorder and stop the epidemic.

Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change director Erin Davis works on the Rock County Heroin Task Force and says she’s seen more people wanting to join them to help their community.

“If we can offer the services and the help that they need, then maybe we can save their lives,” she said.

The task force started working in 2016 to make sure people in Rock County were trained to stop an overdose with Narcan. Now, it’s evolved into new programs like a mobile response team that started this summer.

For that program, a police officer and recovery coach reach out to people at risk of overdose to make sure they’re aware of services available.

“Really what we’re trying to get across is someone cares and someone wants to help. And even if that individual is not ready, at that time, there might be somebody in the home that could be present to take the information,” Davis said.

The group is also working to identify areas where there might be substances used, like public parks, targeting with signs and posters about ways to get help.

Meanwhile, task force members are also creating a new nonprofit organization called the Rock River Recovery Network.

It’s a group of volunteers coming together to help people struggling with addiction, led by those who’ve been through it.

“A lot of these people don’t know where to get help or how to find the help,” said Andrew Mullen.

Mullen is a peer recovery coach. He started after he spent time in a treatment facility for a substance use disorder he lived with for 10 years. He shares that story to help people overcome their struggles.

“You can walk into pretty much any meeting and hear my story being spoke through almost everybody in the meeting,” he told 27 News. “My situation was out of control. I needed help. You know, I couldn’t get off what I was going through, so I needed to find help.”

The network will focus on responding to emergency rooms for overdoses, helping expectant mothers dealing with addiction and helping people develop life skills and find a purpose during recovery.

“The goal was to just save more lives, help more people find the resources that are already there, create new resources that are missing and bring people together,” said Heidi Van Kirk, a consultant for the network.

Plus, the group is helping loved ones be ready to support people coping with crisis.

“That person’s counting on you to start there and making sure you’re okay, get a lot of information, find out what resources are out there. Because there might be a small window of time where that person that you love is on the fence, or might mention maybe I need help, but the window could be very small,” said Van Kirk.

The network’s board meets for the first time next week. They’re hoping for approval to become a nonprofit by the end of August.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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