For years, Mary Rauwolf’s son struggled with mental illness and opioid addiction. Mary and her husband worked to find a treatment program for their son that was effective, available and affordable.

They were both fighting losing battles.

“You’re so desperate and nobody helps,” Rauwolf said.

Her son, Conrad, had battled mental illness from a young age. During his freshman year of high school, he began using alcohol and drugs, eventually including opioids.

For years, his parents tried various inpatient and outpatient facilities, none of which worked for Conrad and few of which were covered by insurance. One inpatient treatment facility cost them over $68,000, forcing them to mortgage their home and take money from their retirement savings.

Every failed treatment meant another frustrating journey through a sea of confusing insurance and treatment options, often with long waiting lists. After an overdose, he again agreed to treatment, and they tried to enroll him in a new program.

“He died while we were waiting for treatment. He had agreed to go but we couldn’t get him in anywhere,” Rauwolf said.

Rauwolf is saddened by the idea that the systems set up to help her son let him down.

“He knew we loved him,” Rauwolf said. “But he died having been told on a million different levels that he wasn’t worth saving.”

Within a year, a hospital in Dane County will pilot a new program that aims to improve this system by offering more immediate support to individuals struggling with opiate addiction. Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County is initiating a program that will connect individuals brought to the emergency room for opioid overdose with a personal recovery coach.

Dane County has followed the nationwide trend of increased opioid overdoses and deaths in recent years. In 2014, there were over 29,000 opioid overdose deaths in the US, up from 5,990 in 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Dane County, there were 11 opiate-related deaths in 2001. Ten years later, that number rose to 61.


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