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Naloxone can help save lives in the battle against heroin, opiates

The number of heroin and opiate overdoses is a statewide problem that is getting worse. Overdose deaths have skyrocketed, and recent data shows heroin and opiates were involved in one-third of all 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, FDA-approved Naloxone is one tool that can reduce the number of fatal overdoses and help bring an end to these tragedies.

Naloxone reverses the effects of heroin and other opioids. Administered while someone is experiencing an overdose, it is the best and likely only chance to save that person's life.

Recently, a concerned father came to an AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin office looking for help. His 21-year-old daughter had recently overdosed, and was near death when an ARCW staff person administered Naloxone.

The father learned 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.

The heartbroken father realized that sometimes there are no easy answers as he and his daughter faced this deadly reality. He was grateful that her life was saved, but unfortunately, not everyone gets that second chance.

While more needs to be done, there has been progress. Gov. Scott Walker recently announced pharmacies can provide Naloxone without a prescription. Initiatives championed by State Rep. John Nygren to address the growing heroin and opiate epidemic also help.

A recent study found the average time from 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 Naloxone to heroin and opiate users. We provide Naloxone free, along with training on how to administer it.

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 geography, gender or age, opioids and heroin have our state firmly in their ugly clutches.

The leadership from Walker and Nygren is important, but 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 drug overdoses. Making Naloxone more accessible is a step in the right direction and a commitment we have made. However, this scourge demands the attention and collective effort from everyone in Wisconsin.

Michael Gifford is president and CEO of the Milwaukee-based AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, which has an office on Tower Avenue in Superior.