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Milwaukee County Executive budget pledges $1.1 million tackle opioid crisis

County Executive Chris Abele is pledging $1.1 million in the budget to try and get a handle on the opioid crisis.

According to the Medical Examiner’s Office, Milwaukee County is on track for a 30 percent increase in drug deaths this year compared to 2016.

“We're talking about the opioid crisis as if you're on a plane and it's late,” Abele said. “We need to be talking about it as though you're on a plane 30,000 feet in the air and both engines are on fire and the pilots unconscious. It's that severe.”

The $1.1 million dollars would increase capacity at the County's Behavioral Health Division’s residential treatment program by 50 percent. It would also add staff to the ME's office, which is seeing a 12 percent increase in autopsies this year. Finally, it would purchase new equipment to cut the time it takes to test drugs from two weeks to just 24 hours.

“They can identify ok, it came from this batch, and we know that was sold with this person and that's the same batch we found in a different neighborhood and the police are very good at using that data to catch the people who are dealers,” Abele said.

The budget proposal is drawing praise from acting Milwaukee County Sheriff Richard Schmidt.

“We’ve got to stop the individuals that are perpetrating this and putting these drugs in to the hands of people,” Schmidt said. “So I'm all for it and I think it's a goo start. But there's much, much more to do.”

Schmidt says his deputies often encounter these addicts on the roads they patrol.

“On occasion we’ve had individuals that have crashed right in our presence,” Schmidt said. “We had medical there immediately, get the Narcan administered immediately and fortunately we’ve seen lives saved because of that. So it’s horrific. It’s everywhere.”

The County Executive agrees that the funding in the budget is only a start.

“This opioid crisis is happening every single day and getting worse,” Abele said. “And we just can't let the fact that it's continuing make us bored about it.”

In a statement about the budget proposal, Attorney General Brad Schimel said, “As we've seen with the state's successful HOPE legislation, our commitment to ending the drug abuse epidemic extends beyond party lines. County Executive Abele's budget proposal demonstrates his dedication to fighting the opioid epidemic in Milwaukee County and recognition that all parts of the system, including public health and addiction treatment specialists, are being taxed by this crisis. I look forward to partnering with him on future initiatives, like the state's drug disposal program.”

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