City officials and local organizations are working to break the habit of increasing heroin addiction in the Dane County area through a cooperative community effort.

According to a statement from the offices of Mayor Paul Soglin and County Executive Joe Parisi, heroin and prescription drug abuse has been on the rise in recent years, making poison-related deaths mainly caused by drug overdoses the number one cause of death in Dane County.

The Opiates Action Plan, discussed during a county-wide summit held Monday, aims to reduce the access to drugs, monitor prescription drug addiction, offer better resources to those suffering from addiction and decrease the number of overdose deaths, the statement said.

“This is a devastating issue that affects individuals and families throughout the city and the county,” Mayor Paul Soglin said in the statement. “I am pleased that the effort to address this problem continues. The city is proud to be a partner in this project.”

Madison Police Department spokesperson Joel DeSpain said Safe Communities, an organization that regularly coordinates campaigns in public safety, facilitated this summit with the hopes of addressing the addiction issue across the board, including health care professionals, law enforcement, city officials and drug abuse prevention groups in the discussion.

According to the Safe Communities website, the organization has improved the personal safety of more than 35,000 Dane County residents since 1999.

The statement said these professionals from various backgrounds have been divided into “workgroups,” which Soglin said will collaborate and propose solutions and plans of action as a unified council.

From here the workgroups that offered their ideas during the summit will be involved in a taskforce that will continue to have connections to the outcome in one way or another, Soglin said.

“Oftentimes physicians recognize a patient’s addiction to prescription pain medications and cut them off,” Soglin said in an interview with The Badger Herald. “Folks that are unable to deal with the problem head down the path of acquiring drugs on the street and then turn to heroin [because it is easier to access].”

The coordination between Safe Communities and the various workgroups is the beginning of a yearlong commitment to address the problem, Soglin said.

DeSpain said the new focus on the issue is in part a result of encouragement from the police department to produce greater involvement in the community, with help from city officials, to address the heroin epidemic.

“Heroin, by far, has been driving a lot of crime in our area, as people rely on theft and sometimes armed robbery to get money to buy the drug,” DeSpain said. “Arresting people isn’t going to solve the dependence on the drug.”

The goals of the new initiative go beyond police activity, instead working to bring individualized efforts together in a holistic approach, Parisi said.

Parisi said heroin addiction often stems from prescription drug abuse, therefore not only the treatment, but also the supply, must be addressed.

Officials said members of the Dane County community should be on the lookout for more concrete information on the Opiates Action Plan to surface in the coming days and weeks as the summit’s report is released and steps are taken by these groups to continue fighting the heroin epidemic.