By Emily Leas

The steep rise in opioid addiction and overdoses in Wisconsin and around the country makes prevention and effective treatment ever more critical.

For more on local families who have lost loved ones to opioid addiction, go to our May article, The Faces of Opioid Addiction.


The first step toward prevention is for users to handle opioid medications responsibly, says Dr. Randy Brown, director of the Center for Addictive Disorders at UW Hospital.

Brown says that most users don’t initially get OxyContin or morphine from dealers or the Internet—they get them from a family member or friend, who is getting them from a single prescriber.

Here are a few tips from Brown for keeping track of your meds to ensure they don’t fall into the wrong hands.

Lock them up, and not just in a medicine cabinet. Use a lock box or safe that cannot be moved.

Don’t advertise that they’re an opioid medication. This may lead to you being victimized for them.

Keep track of your usage through a log or calendar so you know how many you should have left.

Get rid of leftover medication as soon as possible. Police departments and some pharmacies take the drugs for proper disposal. Check out safercommunity.net/meddrop to find locations in Dane County.

Talk to your kids about the dangers of opioid misuse. Brown recommends the National Institute for Drug Abuse Family Check-Up, which has example videos to show you effective ways to talk to your children. drugabuse.gov/family-checkup.

Warning Signs

In her role as a Dane County Narcotics Task Force Detective, Susan Gonzalez spends time educating parents of high school students.

“Why would a parent know what it’s like to use heroin, or the side effects of heroin use? It’s nice to be in that bubble of naiveté, but it’s also a powerful tool to be educated on what to look for to help prevent addiction,” says Gonzalez.

Here are her tips:

Money: If kids are asking for a lot of money on a weekly basis, hold them accountable. Don’t be afraid to ask where the money is going.

Stealing: Addicts sometimes commit to a lifestyle of crime, stealing from businesses to pawn items for money. Keep an eye out for pawn slips or items your child wouldn’t typically own.

Isolation:  Often users will lose motivation to work or spend time with friends and family. Embarrassment of their situation, depression, or paranoia set in, and addicts end up alone.

Lethargy/Sleepiness: Opioids slow heart rate and breathing, causing the user to sleep more than normal.

Physical changes: Pinpoint pupils, weight loss, pale skin, track marks or scars and bruises from using needles.

Treatment options


Methadone, a full opioid drug that provides a more stable high than heroin, must be obtained from a specially licensed clinic such as Madison Comprehensive Treatment Centers, where addicts check in daily for the medication and are required to undergo counseling as part of a tapered treatment toward becoming clean.

Suboxone, also known by its generic name of buprenorphine, is “less regulated because it only turns on opioid receptors part of the way,” says Brown. But the drug must still be prescribed by a physician who is trained to administer it, such as a primary care physician, psychiatrist, specialized treatment center or in similar structures as the Madison treatment center.

Outpatient Treatment

If you know someone who is addicted to opioids, she may not be ready for treatment. When she is, have a plan to help. Knowing potential wait lists, insurance coverage and therapy options can better prepare you for when your loved one is ready. Check out the Wisconsin Department of Health Services site for a full listing of detox and treatment facilities and services across the state. dhs.wisconsin.gov.

Here are a few local treatment options

Journey Mental Health Center: A private, nonprofit treatment clinic that also partners with the Dane County Drug Court program to help reduce recidivism rates of addicts who enter treatment through the court system.

UnityPoint Health-Meriter NewStart: Patients are evaluated on admission and a treatment plan is prescribed involving counseling and sometimes medication like Suboxone once opioids are completely out of the addict’s system.

Your primary care physician: Family doctors can help navigate the insurance and treatment options for counseling and medication.

Inpatient/Residential Treatment

Many treatment facilities offer 30, 60 or 90-day inpatient stays. Often these are not covered by insurance and have extended wait lists. When it’s an option, families may choose to go out of state, paying out-of-pocket to ensure a bed for an addict. Brown, the director of the Center for Addictive Disorders at UW Hospital, says that the keys for successful residential treatment is having a plan that involves medication, support, therapy and the knowledge that the addict will need to completely change her lifestyle.


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