Overdose prevention; fentanyl test strips part of effort

Wisconsin is tapping into new tools to fight overdose deaths. 

The Milwaukee Fire Department gives out what they call "Hope Kits," but new to the kits in the past six months are fentanyl testing strips. They are legal in the state and can help prevent an overdose.

"My brother Terry was the glue that held my family together," said Jason Fritz.

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International Overdose Awareness Day is Wednesday, Aug. 31. Remembering those who died from drug overdoses, Fritz has a message.

"I truly don’t want anyone to feel what we feel," he said.

Jason Fritz speaks on International Overdose Awareness Day

On International Overdose Awareness Day, Fritz said this year stands out.

"A lot more people have died, and I think a lot more people are realizing it’s OK to talk about it," Fritz said.

There is a focus on one drug in particular in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties: fentanyl.

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"Fentanyl is being found in all types of drugs," Milwaukee Fire Capt. David Polachowski said.

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office said the county is on track for more than 700 drug-related deaths in 2022. In August, Waukesha County declared fentanyl a community health crisis.

"I think having more access, unfortunately, is why the numbers aren’t coming down as far as overdoses," said Polachowski.

Fentanyl, drug test strip

Working to save lives, Polachowski said fentanyl test strips are helping this year. The strips can find out what is in a substance to potentially prevent overdoses.

"We have given out close to a thousand kits now in the past year," he said. "If used properly and used at the right time before, absolutely 100%."

Waukesha County said it is using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act and the opioid settlement to upgrade the county's health center to include a crisis unit.

"It’s coming at us from all different angles, and we got to be prepared and educated to see what’s out there," said Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow.

The goal is to keep the conversation going far beyond one day each year.

"This is something we need to work on every single day," Fritz said.

Anyone in need can find fentanyl test strips at fire departments in Milwaukee County and at some pharmacies.