Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Drug Overdose Effort Wins Federal Grant

County medical examiner and medical college get $1.2 million grant to help confront crisis of drug overdose deaths.

By - Jun 8th, 2021 10:30 am
Fentanyl pills. Photo from the DEA.

Fentanyl pills. Photo from the DEA.

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office and the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) are partnering in an effort to better respond to the rising toll that drug overdoses are taking on the Milwaukee community.

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice awarded the medical examiner’s office, in partnership with the MCW, a $1.2 million grant to create an Overdose Public Health and Safety Team to develop strategies for preventing future overdoses. The examiner’s office will ask for approval from the Milwaukee County Board to accept the grant this month.

Milwaukee County has one of the worst rates of drug overdose in the state. Between 2014 and 2019, the county had an opioid overdose fatality rate that was more than double the statewide rate, according to the medical examiner.

There was a significant increase in overdose deaths in 2020 compared to the year before. In 2019, there were 418 deaths from drug overdoses. In 2020, there were more than 540. In April, the examiner’s office was reporting that the county was roughly on the same pace for drug overdose deaths in 2021 as the previous year.

The $1.2 million will be used to fund the response team over the next two and a half years. Funding will also go to “community resource dispatchers” that will connect families impacted by an overdose with services that can help them deal with the “trauma experienced,” the examiner’s office said.

The team will analyze data to develop a response to the overdose crisis that reflects the “changing dynamic of overdose and substance use trends,” according to a report from the medical examiner’s office.

Recently, the majority of overdose deaths involved the use of Fentanyl. Of the 544 overdose deaths in Milwaukee in 2020, more than 400 involved Fentanyl, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service (NNS) reported.

In 2015, according to a report by the Milwaukee Health Department, only 8% of overdose deaths involved fentanyl. But by 2020 approximately 73% of all drug overdoses involved Fentanyl.

This mirrors a national trend that began around the middle of the last decade. For approximately the past five years, the number of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, primarily Fentanyl, have been increasing year over year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But it’s not just fentanyl being used. Since 2015, six out of every 10 drug overdoses involved the use of more than one drug, the MHD report noted.

Some of the latest data on drug overdoses in 2021 shows that overdose deaths are rising among Black county residents. In May, the examiner’s office was reporting that 45% of people that died from a drug overdose so far in 2021 were Black, NNS reported, which is nearly double the 2020 rate of 28%. Given the current rate of overdose deaths, Milwaukee could be on pace to exceed the ghastly number for last year.

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Categories: Health, MKE County, Weekly

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