drugs

SHARYN MORROW, FLICKR

Hundreds of people in Wisconsin die each year from heroin or prescription painkiller overdoses. Milwaukee's city and county leaders are beginning a combined effort to curb opioid abuse. 

They believe they can accomplish more together than on their own. On Friday, the City-County Heroin, Opioid and Cocaine Task Force will hold its first meeting at City Hall.

LaToya Dennis

Across Milwaukee County, heroin is killing people. Last year, more than 140 people succumbed to the drug. For years now, lawmakers have been passing legislation and convening groups - hoping to come up with new ways to tackle the growing problem.

Tuesday, WUWM spoke with a man who described his struggle to break the addiction. Today, we sat down for dinner with a group of 12 men enrolled in treatment at Serenity Inns on Milwaukee’s north side.

tibor13 / Fotolia

Call it what you will: sizzurp, purple drank or lean. They’re all the same. The cough syrup mixture has been a popular drug in some circles for decades, and it’s making a resurgence here in Milwaukee.

The substance is the subject of an article in this month's Milwaukee Magazine, written by freelancer Eben Pindyck. 

LaToya Dennis

Last year in Milwaukee County, heroin killed at least 143 people. That was a nearly 30 percent increase over the previous year. Most health officials agree, addictions to opioids and heroin are continuing to worsen. WUWM caught up with a recovering heroin addict who’s now helping others struggling with addiction.  

Jason Dobson calls himself one of the lucky ones. He had been addicted to heroin and knocking at death’s door.

Wisocnsin Department of Justice

The rate of heroin use in Wisconsin has hit epidemic levels. In 2016, more people died in Wisconsin from overdosing on opioids than in car accidents.

mementosis, flickr

On Thursday, the City of Milwaukee announced the first-ever Drug Mail Back Program. It will allow you to easily dispose of unused or unwanted prescription drugs stashed in your medicine cabinet. At select CVS pharmacies, you will find envelopes addressed to the police department. In them, you can pour unwanted medicines and drop the envelopes in the mail.

“While in one way, it is just a small initiative, it is certainly a vital one to stemming this growing crisis,”  says Milwaukee Alderman Jim Bohl.

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Over the past few days, WUWM has examined the issues surrounding the addiction crisis in Wisconsin and the many people it affects – beyond those addicted.

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Issues such as homicide, motor vehicle deaths and infant mortality often fill the news, but addiction has taken more lives overall. In fact, both prescription opioids and heroin use end more lives in Wisconsin than car accidents.

lovegtr35 / Fotolia

The number of people dying of drug overdoses in Milwaukee County continues to be staggering. In the past seven weeks, 71 people have died of probable overdoses. One was the son of Milwaukee’s Medical Examiner, Dr. Brian Peterson.

Addiction crosses all boundaries - social, economic, race, gender, age - according to Dr. John Schneider, executive medical director of the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division and an expert on addiction.

Photo courtesy of Patti Lomas

Addiction and opioid abuse is a serious problem nationally as well as here in Wisconsin. In 36 states, drug overdoses have become more common causes of deaths and injurythan motor vehicle accidents. According to a Trust for America's Health report, Wisconsin has the 29th-highest rate of overdose deaths, using a three-year average from 2011 to 2013. And, experts say the problem is only growing here.

Tough love, interventions and 12-step programs are some of the most common methods of treating drug addiction, but journalist Maia Szalavitz says they're often counterproductive.

"We have this idea that if we are just cruel enough and mean enough and tough enough to people with addiction, that they will suddenly wake up and stop, and that is not the case," she tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

Wisconsin could receive $13 million to help fight opioid addiction, if Congress approves President Obama's request for $1.1 billion to tackle the issue. Local leaders are urging passage of the plan, with Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy reporting that, in the county, nearly 900 people have died of opioid abuse. “That's twice as much as homicides, twice as much as any auto accidents,” Murphy says.

Murphy says people here need help.

Fotolia

Eight-hundred and eighty-eight. According to a recent study, that's how many people died from drug overdoses in Wisconsin between 2012 and 2015. 

Sharyn Morrow, Flickr

Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is putting forward an idea to help the country reduce its heroin epidemic. His plan would impact senior citizens.

Johnson says the U.S. must tighten its border security to stop the flow of illegal drugs into the country. Yet he knows plenty of people develop heroin addictions because they first become hooked on opioid painkillers.

The senator wants to tweak Medicare rules so they don’t inadvertently encourage physicians to over-prescribe drugs such as OxyContin and Vicodin to seniors.

Michelle Maternowski

Living with a family member addicted to drugs can devastate loved ones. They can struggle to set boundaries and be overwhelmed by anger, resentment and fear. All the while, more and more families are dealing with the problem. The number of people in Milwaukee County alone dying of drug overdoses is in the hundreds and continues to increase.

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