There were 73 confirmed overdose deaths in Milwaukee County in the first three months of 2017, according to the Milwaukee Police Department, and 54 of the 73 deaths were from heroin-related overdoses.
These numbers were presented to the Milwaukee City-County Heroin, Opioid, and Cocaine Task Force at its May 12th meeting in city hall. This was just the third time this taskforce met. It was created last January to study the problems of drug abuse in Milwaukee County.
Bevan Baker, the chair of the task force and the Commissioner of Public Health in Milwaukee, was worried about these trends in the community. “We have a lot of work to do,” said Baker. “There is a consistent rise in the number of deaths. This is well entrenched in our community.”
There were multiple community agencies that presented information to the task force about fighting the drug battle in Milwaukee. One of these organizations was Impact Milwaukee, an organization that offers alcohol and drug abuse services to Milwaukee citizens.
Impact Milwaukee found that 70 percent of the 104 cocaine related deaths since 2011 were from black men. They also found that 83 percent were from residents of the city of Milwaukee, as compared to the county of Milwaukee.
Impact also found that cocaine use across Milwaukee was increasing. “Cocaine use in Milwaukee is increasing because cocaine is easier to use and there is less chance of overdose,” said Patricia Gutierrez of Impact. She added that those who abuse the drug, abuse it because it generates feelings of happiness and excitement. “You have to have it all day every day. If a user doesn’t have it, they’re going to feel sad, and they’re going to feel tired.”
Cocaine was the specific drug the taskforce received information about at the meeting. Members learned that individuals can overdose from cocaine by having a heart attack resulted from too much cocaine in an individual’s system. This is called acute cocaine intoxication.
Wisconsin recently received $7.6 million from the federal government to help fight and prevent opioid addiction across the state. However the funds have not yet been disbursed. Baker was adamant that the funds be heavily allocated throughout the city and county of Milwaukee.
“Milwaukee must get its fair share of federal dollars,” said Baker. “There can be no debate about the need here.”
Milwaukee alderman Mike Murphy said in an interview with Media Milwaukee that the taskforce are planning to put in place efforts to effectively stop drug use in the future. “We have a three legged approach,” said Murphy. “Interdiction, prevention, and treatment.”
One of the methods discussed at the meeting was treatment slots. Treatment slots use money from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Smart Policing Initiative to help treat those in the community suffering from addiction. Baker said that Milwaukee county is in need of more of these.
Baker also talked about treating those with addiction. “The key thing here is the need for more therapists. We need that skill set,” Baker said. “We need downstream interpretation to help what we will be doing upstream to stop deaths.”
The taskforce also heard from the Milwaukee Community Opioid Prevention Effort, as they seek to get state funding. A representative from COPE said that they are submitting a grant to the state, as they are looking to meet evidence based practices in fighting the battle in Milwaukee.
The meeting ended with a time for Milwaukee citizens to comment. There were many community individuals who shared thoughts, as well as ideas towards the current culture of drug use in Milwaukee County.
One individual who commented was Rafael Mercado. Mercado works with Milwaukee Heroin Diaries, a program that seeks to raise awareness to the rising amount of overdoses due to opioids, heroin and prescription pills. “There are kids as young as 8-years-old using heroin in Milwaukee right now,” shared Mercado. “It’s reaching our young kids, but it is also reaching everyone.”
George Morris, a doctor from Milwaukee, also shared some thoughts on the use of drugs in Milwaukee. “Substance abuse is the issue we are talking about here, and the gateway to all of this is alcohol,” Morris shared. “You can’t regulate your way out of this. You have to have a shift in culture.”
The Milwaukee City-County Heroin, Opioid, and Cocaine Task Force will meet next on Friday June 16.