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Milwaukee Neuroscientist: 'Addiction Truly is a Condition, a Disease of the Human Brain'

Jesse Lee/Marquette University
Panelists at the forum (L-R) Dr. John Mantsch, Dr. Matthew Hearing, Dr. Michael Bohn, Dr. Todd Campbell and Ald. Michael Murphy.

There have been more than 300 drug-related deaths in Milwaukee County this year.

Dozens of people concerned about the opioid crisis gathered for a discussion about solutions at Marquette University.

Experts at the event say there are many factors that contribute to the growing epidemic. They say the problem isn’t going to go away, but there are tools being used to make significant progress.

Dr. John Mantsch was a panelist at the opioid crisis forum. The neuroscientist is a professor in the College of Health Sciences at Marquette. He says a lack of understanding and perspective on addiction has contributed to the state we’re in now.

“Imagine any other condition that anyone is facing where the blame is heaped on the victim and the solutions are only advanced insofar as they help the rest of us without really considering necessarily the well-being of the person who’s suffering the most from addiction,” Mantsch says. “A lot of that stigma I think comes from this idea that people see addiction exclusively as a condition of poor character and free choice. Addiction truly is a condition, a disease of the human brain.”

Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy says the opioid problem hits every zip code and neighborhood in the city. He spoke directly to audience members at the forum, saying he's sure everyone in the room knows of someone connected to the issue. 

Credit Jesse Lee/Marquette University
Alderman Murphy discusses the opioid crisis in Milwaukee County.

Murphy also says the statistics in Wisconsin mirror those across the nation. “More people died last year of opiate and heroin addiction than the Vietnam War totality; more than 56,000 people. More people die of opiate and heroin addiction than homicides and car accidents in this country,” he says.

Murphy says while the opioid problem has been growing in recent years, it wasn’t until recently that more funding was made available to address it. He announced yesterday that a budget amendment he championed secures $50,000 for an opioid addiction awareness campaign.

Panelists say other resources also are being used to make progress in fighting the opioid crisis. Things like medication and therapy are a few approaches.

It's progress that Melissa Gorman says she wasn’t aware of before attending the discussion. She’s a senior studying biomedical sciences at Marquette. Though she says she hasn’t personally been impacted by addiction, she’s had friends who have. “Having watched other people kind of go through it, it’s sad because they feel so helpless and I feel helpless trying to help them,” she says.

The forum panelists all say it's important to look at what addicts go through in their lives that made them susceptible to addiction -- whether it’s trauma, mental health issues, or an addiction that evolved from taking opiate-based prescription medications for pain.

Teran is WUWM's race & ethnicity reporter.
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