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A New Way To Track Drug Use In Milwaukee

Coalition Creates What It Calls The Nation’s Largest Surveillance System For Opioid Overdoses

Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo

There’s no one single place in Milwaukee County where overdose data is kept. Paramedics respond to an overdose, the medical examiner does an autopsy, the state Department of Justice collects statistics. But this information isn’t on one system where it can be shared.

The Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment, which was created with money from the conversion of Blue Cross Blue Shield into a private insurer, is seeking to change that.

The endowment is spending nearly $300,000 to coordinate the opioid data with the goal of researchers spotting usage trends and seeing in more detail what types of drugs and painkillers people are using illegally.

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“So by combining the three sets of data into one database it’s more nimble, people can be more responsive and it is more timely,” said Liz Setterfield, a communications consultant with the endowment.

Setterfield said compiling the data will better enable them to intervene and help addicts earlier. By the time the extent of the opioid crisis was known in Wisconsin and across the nation, addiction to painkillers and heroin had already been spiraling upward for years.

More people in Milwaukee County – and statewide – are dying from opioid overdoses than motor vehicle accidents or homicides, according to a press release from Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin. Setterfield said they hope the coordinated data effort can eventually be expanded statewide.

The project began Dec. 16 and will go through Dec. 16, 2019. As for who will analyze the combined data, Setterfield said the DOJ is currently redirecting personnel but hopes to create a fulltime position in the future. The position will not be funded by the two-year, $298,754 AHW endowment, but two other positions will be.

Solutions could be tailored to the growing opioid abuse problem by using the analyzed research.

The Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Medicine has a fulltime analyst in its 2017 budget and the Medical College of Wisconsin will provide a part time statistician for the initiative, Setterfield said.