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Milwaukee drug overdoses spilling into the public

Posted: 3:10 PM, Oct 16, 2019
Updated: 2019-10-16 23:09:37-04
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Heroin needles steps away from playgrounds, drug deaths in fast food restaurants, the overdose epidemic has created new dangers for families and authorities to look out for.

Public places we trust have become targets for drug use, and the problem is growing.

Milwaukee County Parks groundskeeper Thomas Sudol said he finds needles nearly each day.

"I came here in 2012. I didn't see as much as I see now. Every year it's increasing more and more and more," he said.

The I-TEAM found needles under park benches, tossed to the curb and inside public bathrooms.

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Heat map of overdose deaths in Milwaukee County since 2017.

As dangerous drugs become stronger, Rafael Mercado of Team HAVOC said users become more desperate, shooting up as soon as possible, wherever they can.

"I think that's why we're seeing an uptick in, get it, it's potent, use it, I'm in a park, man, I'm going to use it right here," Mercado said.

We reached out to the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office about drug use in the county parks. They responded with the following statement:

"Preventing the illicit use and sale of narcotics in the Milwaukee County Parks, and ensuring the safety of all who utilize our parks, is a key priority of MCSO’s park enforcement efforts. We encourage anyone witnessing an emergency situation in a park to call 911 immediately. Anyone who has observed a pattern of illicit narcotic activity in a county park should call county dispatch at (414) 278-4788 or use the MCSO Mobile App to report this information anonymously."

It's not just the parks that are targeted.

Because of the rising drug use, businesses have had to adjust.

"They've got to the point where they've had to lock their bathrooms because of this problem," Mercado said.

According to court documents, two people overdosed in a fast food bathroom near Marquette University's campus earlier this year.

Three people met up to do drugs in the men's room, and only one person walked out.

The other two were hospitalized, and only one survived.

Milwaukee Fire Department paramedics including Lt. Jeffrey Freitag respond to overdose calls such as this one almost every day.

"Because of what they're experiencing in their disease and their addiction to opioids, it's putting a lot of other people at risk," he said.

"They're actually going unresponsive when they're actually in the driver seat with the car in drive," Freitag said.

Some of those calls end up in the morgue.

Sara Schreiber of the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office said they've seen a record number of overdose deaths in the last few years.

"We have had to add personnel, we've had to add instrumentation into the laboratory, and we've done things to improve efficiencies," she said.

Things that cost taxpayer money and may cost more as the overdose rates continue to climb.

"I don't even think we've hit the rock bottom of this epidemic yet," Mercado said.

If you want to download the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office Safe Parks App, Apple users and Android users can do so below.

Apple Users

Android Users

If you or someone you know is struggling from addiction, call the Wisconsin Addiction Recovery Helpline at 211 or 833-944-4673. You can also text your ZIP code to 898211.

We've compiled a list of resources available for help.

Wisconsin Treatment Directory

Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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