New MFD task force aims to help Milwaukee's drug addicts beat addiction

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee Fire Department's community paramedics were granted a new task Friday, May 3. Their job: help Milwaukee's drug addicts beat addiction.

"We can't get people to get clean if they die," said Captain Michael Wright, Milwaukee Fire Department.

A team of firefighters put together a task force known as the Milwaukee Overdose Response Initiative (MORI). It's a community-wide approach which operationalizes the Milwaukee City-County Heroin, Opioid, and Cocaine Task Force (CCHOCTF) recommendations. The goal initially is to focus on decreasing fatalities by utilizing diverse databases to uncover trends, streamline access to treatment, and provide education in schools.

"This puts them in a situation where we can do the followup to see what we can do to help people," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

The process of recovery first starts when the patient overdoses.

"The work now begins," Captain Wright said. "This is after the emergency follow-up care."

Once first responders have identified a frequent opioid abuser who has overdosed, their information gets passed along to community paramedics.

"Then we put together a team, a diverse team of community paramedics and peer support, addiction support specialists, and we go and visit the patient," said Captain Wright.

Intimate visits aren't rushed and aimed at helping drug users get life-saving help.

"We've never had the time to educate them on the proper use of the safety net in an emergency response, now we do," said Wright. "We start offering them services that are already available. Harm reduction items, needle exchange."

A whole network of agencies in the area are partnering with MORI to help people receive treatment.

"There's a lot that comes with that. There's behavioral changes, and they are physically addicted to this drug that is literally killing them," said Wright.

The initiative is a major step in what city leaders call the right direction for keeping people clean and alive.

Whether it's related to drugs or issues that come with aging, the Milwaukee Fire Department says they've already identified the frequent callers, and they're looking forward to seeing the impact this kind of care has on the community.