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Milwaukee Common Council supports exploring legal options to fight opioid epidemic

July 31, 2019 11:43 AM | Sally Winkelman (Administrator)

July 31, Wisconsin Health News

Milwaukee’s Common Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday allowing Milwaukee’s city attorney to file suit against drugmakers and distributors that could be held responsible for damages from the opioid epidemic.

The resolution allows the city to retain outside counsel for the litigation. It notes that thousands of governmental entities – including Milwaukee County last year and Wisconsin this May – have filed lawsuits over the epidemic.

The resolution now heads to Mayor Tom Barrett's office.

The action comes as Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office reported a total of 14 probable overdose deaths between Friday and Monday morning.

On Monday, the Milwaukee Community Opioid Prevention Effort released a report showing a 10 percent decline in the number of opioid-related overdose deaths from 2017 to 2018.

There were 302 opioid-related overdose deaths last year, down from 337 in the prior year.

Around 62 percent of all overdose deaths last year involved fentanyl, either alone or in combination with other drugs, an increase from the prior year.

The group estimated in its report that for every death, there were five more people who experienced an overdose that survived.

In 2016, the rate of opioid overdose death in the county was double the rate of Wisconsin, showing the crisis is “disproportionately impacting Milwaukee County and its citizens,” the report noted.

Last week, the City-County Heroin, Opioid and Cocaine Task Force met to review efforts to fight the epidemic.

Those efforts included:

·    A June awareness event, modeled after a similar initiative in Dayton, Ohio, that aimed to connect those suffering from substance use disorder with treatment. Task force members said the event should happen regularly.

·    A $20,000 awareness campaign by the Milwaukee Health Department, funded by a grant from the Department of Health Services, that city officials hope to launch in August.

·    The Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management has applied for a $600,000 grant that would help emergency medical services, law enforcement and hospital systems track overdoses in real time. 

The Milwaukee Overdose Response Initiative, an effort by the Milwaukee Fire Department, has been working to follow up with overdose victims and connect them to treatment. 

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