New figures from the Dane County Medical Examiner’s Office indicate 714 people have lost their lives from suicide or drug overdose in Dane County since 2016.

The figures are from January 2016 up through August 2019, with 84 percent of the overdoses occurring as a result of opiates. That compares to 133 people who died as a result of a traffic crash in Dane County since 2016.

“Suicides and overdoses are far and away the leading causes of unnecessary death in this county. They’re affecting all ages, community, races and genders, and it is imperative this community come together and put our energy and resources into solutions,” County Executive Joe Parisi said. “Over 700 people have died unnecessarily in just a few years. Hundreds of others are having close calls and remain with us thanks to the quick thinking and use of Narcan and important treatment efforts.”

Parisi made the announcement Thursday, Nov. 21, during a training at Dane County Human Services South Madison Office, 2306 S. Park St., where dozens of county employees who work in the community are being provided Narcan and training on how to give it to someone experiencing an overdose emergency.

In the past couple of weeks, more than 150 employees of Dane County Human Services have been given doses of Narcan and trained on administering this opiate counter-acting treatment.

“Our human services workers are on the front lines every day, working directly with families in homes and neighborhoods across the community,” said Shawn Tessman, human services department director.

Since 2016, the county has reported 441 deaths from overdoses. Of these, 372 involved opiates.

Another 273 people took their own lives via suicide.

Meanwhile, new numbers from Dane County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) show ambulances across the county have responded to 526 overdose calls this year. Similar to the fatalities, the vast majority involve opiate usage in which Narcan is used in resuscitative efforts.

To confront these trends, the county executive’s budget for 2020 adds more than $2.2 million in new mental health and addiction resources for schools and community centers. The budget includes funding to establish the new C.J. Tubbs Fund for Hope, Healing, and Recovery – named after the son of Dane County Emergency Management director Charles Tubbs who died this summer from an accidental overdose.

In partnership with the Safe Communities Coalition, Dane County is also creating a new End Deaths by Despair Coalition, to bring a dedicated team together to focus on the best strategies to raise awareness and reduce the prevalence of suicide.

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