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Milwaukee County Receives Grants to Combat Opioid Addiction

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The CDC estimates that most new heroin addicts first became hooked on prescription pain medication before graduating to heroin, which is stronger and cheaper.

Milwaukee County is taking some big steps in its effort to combat opioid addiction. The county has received grants totaling more than $2.5 million to help boost two programs that help people addicted to opiates get back on their feet.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele announced the new grants at the Juvenile Justice Center in Wauwatosa. He told the group that gathered that opioid addiction has reached epidemic proportions. Abele says the number of deaths is staggering, and it dwarfs just about anything else in history.

“In the Vietnam War nine years, 58,000 U.S. servicemen died. Last year, between 59,000 and 65,000 Americans died from opiate overdoses and the numbers are increasing. We see it locally, you’re hearing it nationally,” Abele says.

Abele says in Milwaukee County, there have been 343 drug-related overdose deaths so far this year, surpassing the number from 2016. The county executive says the state Department of Health Services is providing a $500,000 grant to the county’s Behavioral Health Division. The money will help expand the number of beds at residential treatment facilities by 75.

Credit Bob Bach
Judge Ellen Brostrom gives a Milwaukee County Drug Treatment Court graduate a framed inspirational message to help him carry forth on his journey of recovery in 2014.

At the same time, the federal government is providing $2 million to Milwaukee County's Drug Treatment Court -- specifically to pay for services to people struggling with addictions to heroin and opioid painkillers. The court program provides extensive treatment and counseling, in lieu of incarceration.

LISTEN: Milwaukee County's Drug Treatment Court Keeps Some Men Out of Prison

Judge Joe Donald says since the program began six years ago, it's made a tremendous impact. “We are transforming these families so that they have a certain amount of protective capacity, that they can raise their children, that they can become supportive families in the community and therefore as a community, we all can benefit,” he says.

One person who says she’s benefited from the county’s drug treatment court is 27-year-old Robyn Ellis. She says she started using drugs heavily at age 18, following the death of her mother. Ellis says eventually, because of her addiction, she lost custody of her daughter to the county’s Child Protective Services program. Then she heard about drug treatment court.

“Thankfully, Family Drug Treatment Court got involved and it was presented to me to have this opportunity to be involved in something that could better me,” Ellis says.

Ellis says she was reunited with her daughter after she completed the program, and managed to turn her life around.

“It took me seven months after getting involved with Family Drug Treatment Court to actually get sober, and it was because of the constant support that Family Drug Treatment support showed me with the case manager and all the services that were wrapped around me, that I was able to push through and learn new things and develop new healthy patterns,” Ellis says.

The grants, that will allow the county to grow the court program and the number of residential treatment beds, is already in the county's hands. County Executive Abele says the programs are underway and some people have been taken off the waiting lists and put into residential care.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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