Federal Grant Funds New Opioid Program
County has state's highest rates of deaths and hospital visits related to opioid addiction.
Thanks to a federal grant, Milwaukee County is building out a treatment practice aimed at reducing opiate overdoses among those caught in the criminal justice system.
The grant is $1.2 million over three years from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance that will fund addiction treatment services tailored to individual cases.
These services will include medically assisted treatment, with medications like methadone or suboxone, and counseling for those currently incarcerated in the Milwaukee County House of Correction (HOC) with 30 to 90 days left in their sentence, said Amy Lorenz, Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division Director of Crisis Services. And once released, they have access to the full array of county services, like recovery housing and other support services. They will also be required to be part of an outpatient recovering program.
The rate of relapse and overdose for those in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system is abysmal. A press release announcing the new grant noted, “data collected between 2013 and 2017 shows a 109.2 percent increase in opioid overdose hospitalizations after placement on probations and a 160.8% increase in opioid overdose hospitalizations after release from prison.” The data comes from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, And it also shows that deaths from opioid overdoses have gone up 126 percent among those in the Wisconsin Corrections System.
Mike Lappen, administrator for the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division, said in a statement that Milwaukee County has the highest rates of deaths and hospital visits related to opioid abuse in the state. In late February, The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner announced that it responded to six probable overdoses in just 5 and a half hours. The examiners office told Wisconsin Public Radio that Milwaukee County was on track for 500 drug related deaths in 2020.
“Overwhelming” is how Jose Hernandez, HOC assistant superintendent, described what it’s like for incarcerated individuals who are released back to their communities. This new grant, Lappen said, “allows us to wrap all the necessary services around individuals during one of the most critical periods of their recovery journey.”
Lorenz said starting medication assisted treatment during incarceration is a new approach to both treatment and criminal justice that is catching on. Other counties in Wisconsin like Columbia, Jackson and Racine have implemented medication assisted treatment in their corrections facilities.
In a statement, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said this expansion of services is a “practiced and proven approach” for “ensuring every resident… has what they need to thrive.” Abele also said, “We all have a responsibility to ensure that we are tackling the opioid crisis head-on and taking a more proactive role in helping our residents get the treatment they need.”
The grant represents a new level of cooperation in addressing the problem of opioid abuse in Milwaukee County, Lorenz said. The State and Milwaukee County will work together, coordinating with community treatment service providers and a private company providing health care in the House of Corrections.
“And it’s pretty unique to have that all being backed by the [U.S.] Department of Justice,” Lorenz added.
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Read more about Opioid Crisis here