Milwaukee Leaders Launch Month of Activities to Combat Drug Addiction

Sep 9, 2014

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett stands in front of the "recovery quilt" at city hall on Monday.
Credit Marti Mikkelson

Dozens of times every year in metro Milwaukee, people die from drug overdoses.

One of the most worrisome substances may be heroin, because of its addictive nature and lethal effects. Yet alcohol also has people in its grip, as do prescription drugs.

No matter what the substance, leaders on Monday launched a campaign to fight addictions.

The backdrop for the kick-off at Milwaukee City Hall, was a huge patchwork quilt. Many of the colorful squares contained hand prints. They belong to the Wisconsin residents who made the quilt - people recovering from alcohol and drug addictions.

Mayor Tom Barrett says many feel too ashamed to talk about their problems.

“Oftentimes people who are in that situation, whether it’s something they are suffering from themselves or whether it’s a close family member or friend who’s suffering, feel isolated and alone. They don’t know who to turn to or who to talk to. What’s important is that people feel that they have the strength to talk about the challenges they face,” Barrett says.

Barrett says, during the month of September, leaders will encourage people to share their struggles. Organizer Jenny Kube says she is a recovering alcoholic. Kube agrees awareness is key to confronting addictions, whether for oneself or a loved one.

“It’s a group effort, it’s not just people themselves in recovery, it’s family and friends. Alcoholism doesn’t touch just one person, mental health doesn’t touch just one person. It affects the families too and friends,” Kube says.

Milwaukee’s awareness campaign comes on the heels of updated numbers from the Medical Examiner’s office. It has counted 56 heroin-related deaths so far this year, not far off the total for all of 2013.

Common Council President Michael Murphy organized a heroin summit in June and says new partnerships developed. For example, later this fall, people will be able to drop off unwanted medications at two police stations. Murphy says many young people who become addicted to heroin, begin experimenting at home.

“They start out from the medicine cabinet of their parents’ or grandparents’ house and they move onto stronger drugs such as heroin. By keeping them out of the mainstream we can help many, many people,” Murphy says.

Murphy says another new partnership will help kids cope with parents who are addicted. Michelle McKenna would have been an example. She is a recovering heroin addict. McKenna says she lost custody of her son, but has been sober now for 13 years.

“At the beginning it was really hard but it got easier as I went. I was surrounded by amazing people who are in recovery themselves who showed me how to live a life of recovery. I chose them as my friends, my new running buddies and that’s what turned it around for me,” McKenna says.

McKenna works as an addiction counselor at Rogers Memorial Hospital. She hopes this month’s awareness campaign reaches people who need to know where to get help. According to McKenna, many don’t know where to turn.