Members of the press trying the county’s first harm reduction vending machine in March, 2023. (Photo | Isiah Homes)
A total of 11 free-to-use harm reduction vending machines have been deployed in Milwaukee County, officials have announced. Dispensing fentanyl testing strips, nasal naloxone, medication deactivation pouches, medication lock bags and other supplies, local authorities hope the vending machines will help to curb harms caused by a crisis of drug overdoses. Last year, there were 667 overdose deaths in Milwaukee County.
“The opioid epidemic reaches communities in all parts of the country,” said Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley in a statement. “It crosses all socio-economic, demographic and age ranges – there is no ‘type’ of person who succumbs to opioid addiction. Last year’s opioid settlement allow[ed] us to get to work right away funding projects that will help save lives and mitigate continued suffering for residents and their loved ones.” Crowley added that the county he oversees has been “on the frontlines of this battle for years in the court system, and now we take the next step in bringing desperately needed resources to the doorstep of the communities that need them the most. By following data and investing in the communities with the highest need, I am optimistic we will make our streets safer and help residents begin or continue their road to recovery.”
Last fall, it became clear that the county planned to deploy the vending machines by this summer. Twenty of the machines were purchased last October, as an application process for obtaining a machine and other logistics were still being hashed out. In March, the first of the machines was deployed in the Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Center in Milwaukee. Officials noted that public and private businesses as well as religious organizations, non-profits, and behavioral health service providers could apply to host a vending machine. Every 16 hours, someone dies of an overdose in Milwaukee County according to recent statistics cited by county officials. The county’s overdose dashboard keeps up to date information on overdose trends, including which zip codes are most affected.
Dr. Ben Weston, Milwaukee County’s chief health policy advisor, said that the vending machines will be critical in breaking down barriers to treatment and harm reduction. “The vending machines, placed in key locations across the county will reduce barriers to these essential life saving tools,” Weston said in a statement. “By making fentanyl test strips, naloxone nasal spray, and other critical harm reduction supplies free and available without stigma, we can drive down the injury and harm from opioid overdoses in our community.”
The machines will be placed at 11 additional locations throughout Milwaukee County. Those will include Wisconsin Community Services (2600 W. North Ave), the Greendale Health Department (5650 Parking St), Outreach Community Health Centers (210 W. Capitol Drive), the Oak Creek Fire Department (7000 S. 6 St), Community Advocates (728 N. James Lovell St), Diverse & Resilient (2439 N. Holton St), Guest House of Milwaukee – Pathways to Permanent Housing Program (1615 S. 22nd St), the Milwaukee County Community Reintegration Center (8885 S. 68th St), First Step (2835 N. 32rd St), AMRI Counseling Services (4001 W. Capitol Drive), and the Dr. Martin L. King Community Center (1531 W. Vliet St). A map showing the locations of the harm reduction vending machines can be found here.
Shakita LaGrant-McClain, executive director of the county’s Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS), said in a statement that the vending machines fit right into the department’s goal of increasing access to services and resources. “The Harm Reduction Vending Machines provide life saving supplies at no cost in areas with the greatest need,” said LaGrant-McClain. “We are hopeful this evidence-based strategy of harm reduction will change the narrative and prevent death from overdose.”
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