Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

City Wins $700,000 For Drug Overdose Fight

Opioid program has saved 15 lives in 2019; new funding will expand program.

By - Dec 6th, 2019 04:56 pm

Pills by Tom Varco (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Pills by Tom Varco (Own work) (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

“This is a really great day,” said Alderman Michael Murphy. “This is a day where all our work and efforts are coming to fruition.”

Murphy, chair of the City-County Heroin, Opioid and Cocaine Task Force, appeared before the Common Council’s Public Safety & Health Committee to secure formal approval to accept a $734,899 grant from a national association to address overdoses.

The funds would support a pilot effort known as the Milwaukee Overdose Response Initiative (MORI) led by the Milwaukee Health Department (MHD). The effort, based out of the Station 31 of the Milwaukee Fire Department (MFD) at 2400 S. 8th St. in the city’s Lincoln Village neighborhood, is focused on engaging all overdose survivors with treatment and recovery services to reduce fatalities, increase access to treatment and decrease emergency services usage.

A total of 384 drug-related deaths were recorded in Milwaukee County in 2018, with 302 of those from opioids.

Prior to the pilot, Murphy said individuals were given a postcard-size note with a phone number on it. “We felt that was inadequate,” said the council’s opioid crisis expert, noting that individuals would get an expensive treatment of naloxone (Narcan) to reverse an overdose and sometimes just walk out of the ambulance.

Murphy and Ald. Jose G. Perez sponsored a $100,000 budget amendment in the 2019 budget to get the pilot started. The program is modeled after a similar effort in Cincinnati, Ohio.

MFD Captain Michael Wright said the effort has saved more than 15 lives in 2019. “I don’t want to get out over my skis right away, but we are making a difference, it is working,” said Wright.

“We have a number of individuals, quite honestly, they would probably be dead today if it wasn’t for the efforts of both the city and county, the fire department and health department,” said Murphy.

Wright said MFD is uniquely suited to host the pilot and convene the partners. “It isn’t working because we came up with some magical idea that started working right away,” said Wright. He said MFD is perceived as a neutral party, has access to important databases and has an existing community paramedic program. “We got people that are competitors to work side by side.”

Listed as subgrantees on the grant request in addition to the MFD, MHD, Medical College of Wisconsin and Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division are Staff One, Community Medical Services, WisHope, UW-Milwaukee, R1/ImageTrend, Share Training and Center for Gender and Justice.

Wright said the new funding would be used to expand the availability of the program from four hours a day, five days a week to eight hours a day, six days a week. It could also be used to purchase equipment to expand capacity.

“It’s really helping us expand and increase capacity beyond the grant as well,” said Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik.

The grant will come from the National Association of County and City Health Officials. The funds run through July 31st, 2020.

“You made our city proud,” said Ald. Mark Borkowski of Wright. He lamented that the media often latches onto things that go wrong, instead of many city employees who go above and beyond the call of duty. “I just want to thank everyone involved.”

One of those unsung heroes is MHD public health analyst Courtney Geiger. Murphy singled her out for her work in writing the grant application.

“This is a great day. This is something we should be bragging about,” said Perez of the pilot’s success. He said he looked forward to it going city wide.

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Related Legislation: File 191242

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