Innovator Profile: Cindy Burzinski

Wisconsin Voices for Recovery is a state-wide, peer-run organization that seeks to provide connection to resources for those struggling with substance use disorders, and their families. The organizational mission is led by Cindy Burzinski, a researcher with the UW–Madison Department of Family Medicine and Community Health (DFMCH). She was appointed Director of WI Voices for Recovery in 2021. Since then, Burzinski has spearheaded the growth and development of a new program to reduce the risk of opioid fatality across the state. This program is called Nalox-ZONE.

The Nalox-ZONE program was conceptualized in response to Wisconsin’s rising number of fatalities caused by opioid overdose and a lack of resources to end them. The program provides free Nalox-ZONE boxes (a type of opioid rescue kit) to businesses and organizations with life-saving materials, including CPR masks and nasal naloxone, an opioid antagonist that can temporarily restore breathing reversing a potentially fatal overdose, keeping a person alive until EMS arrives to provide further medical attention. For over four decades, medical technicians and law enforcement have used naloxone for this purpose, but Nalox-ZONE seeks to increase community access to the medication, as community members are often first on the scene before a first responder arrives. The boxes provide a life-saving resource for those at risk of an overdose and their families and friends who may need to administer naloxone to their loved one at risk, as well as those who could unintentionally consume opioids and bystanders. This supports both safety in critical emergencies and harm reduction long-term.

The mission of the Nalox-ZONE program is to distribute as many Nalox-ZONE boxes as possible throughout Wisconsin. Over the past few years of growth, physicians, researchers, addiction specialists, and more have worked together to execute this mission. Nalox-ZONE’s D2P mentor, Aimee Arnoldusson, says “It was rewarding to follow their progress through I2M and Igniter and to see their NaloxZone boxes in public spaces as I travel throughout Wisconsin – visibly delivering impact throughout the state — the Wisconsin Idea”. With the help of D2P, Nalox-ZONE now provides free life-saving resources across 53 counties in Wisconsin and continues to expand.

We asked Burzinski to share her insights on increasing access to resources for the recovery community and her role in directing a mission-driven program:

Where did the idea for your program come from initially?

The idea for the Nalox-ZONE Program came in response to the increase in fatal opioid overdoses across the state. We observed other organizations installing vending machines as a potential solution. The vending machines, while helpful, were complex and did not remove all barriers to naloxone access, such as preserving anonymity. We wanted to come up with a solution to increase access to naloxone while maintaining anonymity due to the stigma surrounding substance use disorders and use of harm reduction and safety measures.

How has D2P helped you, and what have you learned?

D2P helped us take our mission-driven program from its early stages to exponential growth through the context of a social business model. Working through the Social Business Model Canvas was especially helpful for strategic planning and understanding our program’s big-picture priorities. We learned the value of conducting discovery interviews to help us understand our program’s needs, barriers, and facilitators of success. We also learned the importance of messaging when seeking participants in the program and the importance of tailoring it to the needs of different sectors. This was particularly relevant in facilitating engagement because of the stigma around substance use and harm reduction.

What’s your current focus with the program?
Our current focus is to expand the Nalox-ZONE Program to have a presence in all 72 Wisconsin counties and increase the number of installed Nalox-ZONE boxes in each county. We are currently in 53 counties with over 375 Nalox-ZONE boxes installed and over 150 pending.

What are your hopes for the program moving forward?
We would like to increase cost efficiency, reach, and improve our technology. We are seeking donations of time, service, and monetary gifts to keep the program free while paving the way for sustainability, expansion and growth to continue supporting the safety of Wisconsin communities and reducing the risk of fatal opioid overdose.

L- R: Nalox-Zone team members: Mary Henningfield,* Lisa Sampson,* Cindy Burzinski, Meghan Vieth, Alyssa Turnquist Not pictured: Meagan Sulikowski, Christopher Zahn

What drives you/why is this project important to you personally?
We save lives by increasing access to life-saving naloxone in the community. Opioid overdose deaths have increased since 2020 and continue to remain high. The Nalox-ZONE Program provides an opportunity for free community access to naloxone, thus reducing the risk of fatal opioid overdose.

What advice would you give to other campus innovators who are just starting with exploring the potential for their ideas?

I believe it’s essential to look at the big picture as well as small operational details that provide the foundation to success. Discovery interviews are extremely valuable, and I’d recommend conducting many of them across various sectors to equip yourself with different perspectives to consider while developing ideas. I’d also encourage discovery interviews throughout the implementation stage of your idea, as we’ve also found ongoing feedback extremely helpful to help us best tailor our program to the needs of the communities we serve.

Is there an experience during the development of your program that surprised you or had a particularly strong impact on your direction? What did you learn, or how did it change your thinking?

Several experiences had a significant impact on the development of our project, however, the one that helped move it forward most significantly was the discovery interview process. These interviews allowed us to continuously revise our approach to implementation. Since our program is mission-driven, it was critically important to understand the values, experiences, and needs of those we would be reaching out to for engagement. Through this process, we learned the impact of involving the community perspective. Nalox-ZONE is both a program and a community effort, and we are enormously grateful to those who believe in and value our mission and continue to propel the mission forward.


*Mary and Lisa are the original co-inventors of the concept of incorporating wireless monitoring

Read more innovator profiles from D2P