A new report sheds more light on drug abuse issues in Milwaukee and recommends local leaders push for greater access to services.
This preliminary report from the City-County Heroin, Opioid and Cocaine Task Force was developed over the past year by government officials, health professionals, community leaders and industry experts.
Nationally, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of deaths for people under 50. More than 90 Americans die of opioid overdoses every day, and the number of opioid overdose deaths has quadrupled since 1999.
But it’s not only opioids that are on the rise. Cocaine-related deaths have been increasing steadily since 2004. From 2010 to 2015, the number of cocaine-related deaths has increased by 160 percent.
Wisconsin has seen a 300 percent increase in drug overdose deaths since 2000, and the number of overdose deaths in the state due to prescription opioids went up 600 percent between 2000 and 2016.
Out of all 72 counties in the state, Milwaukee County has the highest rate of opioid deaths and of hospital visits due to misuse of substances. Drug overdoses killed 401 people in Milwaukee county last year — more than shootings, suicides and driving-related deaths combined.
With these numbers in mind, report authors outline focus areas for scaling up response efforts.
“Going forward, the Task force will utilize this initial work plan to facilitate discussions with community partners in order to create an expanded plan for implementation,” Task force co-chairs wrote.
Some of the focus areas are straightforward goals: reducing the number of opioid-related deaths in Milwaukee County; and reducing the number of drug violation-related arrests among youth.
Others are harder to quantify: ensuring adequate access to timely, affordable, and quality services for all people with substance use disorders; and enhancing collaboration between community-based initiatives and government agencies.
Report authors say the Task force will also focus on improving epidemiology and surveillance related to substance misuse; support legislation that’s aimed at reducing substance abuse; fund prevention programs to keep more people from developing these problems; and increase collaboration between community-based initiatives and government agencies.
Though initial goals were laid out in this report, Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy says multiple public listening sessions will be held across the state before a final plan is set in stone.
“We want to hear from citizens, stakeholders and anyone who has ideas and input to share,” he said.
Murphy was the primary sponsor of the Common Council legislation creating the task force.
Task force member and fellow Alderman Khalif Rainey stresses the importance of community awareness and involvement in finding solutions to Milwaukee’s substance abuse issues.
“Whether it is a teenager ingesting cough syrup to get high, a young adult using cocaine, or a middle age person unnecessarily taking prescription drugs — substance abuse is not limited to one profile in the community,” he said.
–By Alex Moe