Milwaukee's effort to fight 'overdose pandemic' during coronavirus pandemic

Posted at 6:13 PM, Apr 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-09 23:26:13-04

MILWAUKEE — An effort is underway to make sure every business and public building in our area has a life-saving tool: a Narcan box. But part of the challenge now is stopping the stigma.

TMJ4 News was there Friday when the first two Narcan boxes were installed in Milwaukee County. Narcan nasal spray is easily pressed into someone’s nose if they’re overdosing. It can revive them within minutes. Each box contains two doses, along with directions, resources and phone numbers for help.

“You just open it, take it out of the box, and there’s a kit with everything you need,” said Desilynn Abd-Al-Jabbar Smith, a mental health and substance abuse counselor. “A substance abuse organization tracks the boxes so they can replace the Narcan after it’s taken. It's not tracked by the police or anyone else. You can come take the Narcan out of the box for free, anonymously, no questions asked.”

The organization leading this effort is Wisconsin Voices for Recovery. More than $40,000 in funding to build and install the boxes comes from Serve You Rx.

“If it can change the conversation and the stigma associated with opioid addiction, everyone is going to benefit,” said Cheryl DeShambo with Serve You Rx. “Everyone should have access to Narcan, and feel comfortable carrying it.”


The boxes have already been installed in a number of Milwaukee suburbs like Mequon, Grafton, West Bend and Beaver Dam, as well as in other Wisconsin cities like Madison and Appleton.

Smith helped them get in Milwaukee, at Life Christian Academy (6751 N. Teutonia Ave.) and Gateway to Change (2319 W. Capitol Dr.). Both locations are on the city’s north side, where all too often, resources for getting help are limited.

“The spotlight on Milwaukee and Milwaukee County has always been dim,” said Smith. “We’re trying to change that, because we are here and we matter.”

Overdoses have become another pandemic within the coronavirus pandemic. Stress and isolation fuel anxiety, depression and drug use.


Last year in Milwaukee County, 536 people died from overdoses, according to the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner. Of those, 406 deaths were people in the City of Milwaukee.

In 2021, the trend is continuing. From Jan. 1 through March 14 of this year, there have been at least 65 confirmed overdoses in Milwaukee County. But more than 80 are still pending according to the Medical Examiner.

A nationwide study done by JAMA Psychiatry in February of 2021 found overall Emergency Room visits for opioid overdoses during the COVID-19 pandemic are up nearly 30 percent, as compared to the same time in 2019.

“This year alone, I’ve seen five people pass of overdoses,” said Smith. “They were very close to me. That is too much. It’s too many people.”

Her goal is to get the Narcan boxes everywhere.

“Police stations, fire stations, bars, gas stations,” she said. “Know that there is a high risk. Please reach out so we can get these boxes to you.”

For help/more information:

Wisconsin Voices for Recovery:

Gateway to Change Free Rehab Center: 2319 W. Capitol Dr., Milwaukee, WI, 53206 (414) 442-2033

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