Graham Kilmer
MKE County

County Will Expand Addiction Prevention, Treatment

Recent $71 million legal settlement provides funding for this.

By - Dec 23rd, 2021 02:25 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.

Milwaukee recently received a $71 million settlement from a handful of pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors as part of a national lawsuit brought by local governments from across the country.

The settlement agreement calls for these funds to be directly used to combat the ongoing opioid epidemic and alleviate some of the human suffering it has caused. The $71 million settlement will be paid out to the county over the next 18 years.

“This settlement will save lives,” said Milwaukee County Corporation Counsel Margaret Daun.

Daun, working with local outside counsel, and attorneys representing counties and municipalities around the country, sued McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc., AmerisourceBergen Corporation, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. 

They successfully argued that these opioid manufacturers and distributors misled the public about the dangers of long-term opioid use and ignored suspicious orders of the highly addictive prescription drugs.

“Here are the facts,” Daun said, at a press conference Tuesday, “in 2002 Milwaukee County recorded 83 deaths related to opioid abuse, this year we are on track to set yet another devastating record of over 500 deaths related to opioid abuse.”

County Executive David Crowley noted that between 2019 and 2020,  overdoses rose nearly 30% in Milwaukee County.

“This opioid pandemic has left a wave of destruction across this state and across this nation,” he said. “But we’re now in a better position to fund critical services that will help save lives and mitigate continued suffering for residents as well as their loved ones and their neighbors.”

The money from this settlement can be used on a wide variety of opioid abuse treatment and prevention efforts. In fact, an exhibit from the settlement listing the applicable strategies and programs runs 15 pages long.

These include, but are not limited to, emergency drugs that reverse an overdose, medically assisted treatment for addiction, intervention and treatment for pregnant women suffering from addiction, services that move recent overdose patients directly from emergency care to treatment, treatment for incarcerated people and public prevention campaigns.

County Board Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson said that local governments are best equipped to do the most good in addressing the social devastation of the opioid epidemic.

Milwaukee County already has the infrastructure in place to expand access and improve services that respond to the crisis of opioid addiction. A number of the programs that can be funded through the settlement are already in place within the county’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Behavioral Health Division (BHD).

DHHS Director Shakita LaGrant-McClain told Urban Milwaukee that the new funding can be used to expand and enhance existing programs and partnerships – like with the City of Milwaukee – and if this is done, “We can save lives.”

DHHS has already been building out a service delivery model called No Wrong Door. Its goal is that anyone seeking county services can access them, and any others they may need, wherever they initially come in contact with the county. “Our ‘No Wrong Door’ vision of customer service means anyone, regardless of age or ability, can and will be served no matter how they enter the system,” said LaGrant-McClain.

The county has a program that aims to reduce the number of people on a waitlist to get into supportive housing for alcohol or drug addiction. It has a program that connects someone who has recently overdosed with a peer specialist and behavioral health clinician while they are still in the Emergency Room and continues contact after they leave.

“The settlement funds will help DHHS build on the successes and expand services that have been proven to work in our community and also to explore harm reduction and prevention efforts for which we have not previously had the funding,” said LaGrant-McClain.

For example, the county is already looking at ways to get more involved in “warm hand-off” of overdose patients, which is when someone goes directly from emergency care to a treatment facility following an overdose.

The county is also involved in the Milwaukee Overdose Response Initiative or (MORI), which is a partnership of the City of Milwaukee Health Department and Fire Department, but it could be more involved, LaGrant-McClain said. “The goal of [MORI] is really to decrease the repeated overdose number with those victims, by building relationships, guiding access to resources, and treatment,” she said.

Additionally, the City-County Heroin, Opioid and Cocaine Task Force produced a report “with recommendations that, with this funding, we can implement at a larger scale,” she noted.

One way to begin saving lives immediately with this funding is expanding the use and availability of Naloxone. This is the drug used to reverse an overdose in emergency situations. It is often referred to by its commercial brand Narcan.

Daun emphasized that the funding from the settlement will not be used for policing or law enforcement efforts. “We cannot incarcerate our way out of a local addiction epidemic.”

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us