The number of heroin and opiate overdoses is a statewide problem that is getting worse. Drug deaths related to heroin and opiates have skyrocketed, and recent data shows heroin and opiates were involved in one of every three Wisconsin drug deaths.

More than 163,000 Wisconsinites struggle with opiates or heroin. It is likely most of us know someone who is an opiate or heroin user, even if we don’t realize it.

However, there is one tool that can reduce the number of fatal overdoses and help bring an end to these tragedies. That tool is called Naloxone. Naloxone reverses the effects of heroin and other opioids. Administered while someone is in the throes of an overdose, it is the best and likely only chance to save that person’s life.

Not too long ago, a concerned father came to one of the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARCW) offices looking for help. His 21-year-old daughter had recently overdosed. She was moments from death until Naloxone was administered by an ARCW staff person.

The father learned how ARCW provides a clean needle exchange, Naloxone distribution and drug treatment programs to help thousands each year. Together, these programs use a harm-reduction approach with demonstrated results that save lives and protect people from HIV and hepatitis C infections.

The father’s sentiment was that of a heartbroken parent realizing that sometimes there are no easy answers as he and his daughter faced this deadly reality. He was grateful that her life was saved. Unfortunately, not everyone gets that second chance.

While more needs to be done to fight the heroin and opiate epidemic, there has been some progress. Gov. Scott Walker recently announced that pharmacies in Wisconsin can provide the life-saving drug Naloxone without a prescription. Initiatives championed by State Rep. John Nygren to address the ever-growing heroin and opiate epidemic are also helping to save lives, like the young woman I mentioned. Both leaders should be commended.

A recent study found that the average time from the moment of first opioid use to overdose death is just 31 months. Clearly, the time to act is now.

ARCW has helped save more than 4,000 people since 2006, when we began distributing this FDA-approved medicine to heroin and opiate users. We provide Naloxone free, along with training on how to administer it to save a life and help those caught in this addiction.

Every community can help get Naloxone into the hands of anyone who could benefit from it. ARCW can train you so that you can save the life of your family member or friend. All you need to do is contact us.

This is a statewide problem, and there are many chilling reminders that regardless of race, gender, age or income, opioid abuse and the heroin epidemic have our state firmly in their ugly clutches.

The leadership from Gov. Walker and State Rep. Nygren is important, and more needs to be done. Working with our community partners, law enforcement and a bipartisan coalition of concerned legislators, ARCW stands ready to do what is needed to help reduce the tragic number of lost lives because of a drug overdose. Making Naloxone more accessible is a big step in the right direction and a commitment we are ready to make. However, this scourge demands the attention and collective effort from everyone in the state as well.

Michael Gifford is the president and CEO of the AIDS Resource Center Wisconsin, the largest and fastest growing HIV health care system in Wisconsin, with offices in Superior, Eau Claire, Green Bay, Wausau, Appleton, La Crosse, Beloit, Kenosha, Madison and Milwaukee.

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