211 center sees 'exponential' increase in heroin, opiate calls

Center handles 600 to 700 calls a day

MILWAUKEE, Wis. - As drug addiction continues to plague Milwaukee County, the 211 operation center is handling more and more calls related to opiate and heroin addiction.

The center handles between 600 and 700 calls per day. The majority of the calls are now related to addiction.

"Within the last five or six years, the number of opiate and heroin  calls has gone up exponentially," said John Hyatt, the president and CEO of Impact, a non-profit organization that operates 211.

Hyatt said heroin and opioid related calls used to be few and far between. Now he says that's about 65 percent of the calls they take.

"We talk them through a short sort of consultation of what they're using, how long they've been using it, have they ever been in a program or tried to stop using," Hyatt said.

According to the Medical Examiner's Office, every 25 hours someone in Milwaukee County dies of an opiate overdose.

Last year, the medical examiner saw 343 drug related deaths compared to 255 in 2015. That's an increase of 35 percent.

"We get as many people calling for themselves as people calling for a loved one," Hyatt said.

He said they first talk with people about how to find support groups, or ways to cut down or eliminate the drugs in their lives. They can also take the next step and recommend a formal substance abuse treatment program.

They will also help loved ones start the conversation.

"We really just coach you through what are the words you can use, how do you approach it," Hyatt said. "You're not going to hurt the person by talking to them about it."

He said 211 is a neutral, third party and they do not benefit from sending anyone to treatment programs.

He also said with more advertising around the city, more people are aware of 211 now and seeking help.

"We want people to know," Hyatt said. "We want them to call, we want them to search the online database."

Two-one-one was established in 2002 in Wisconsin and it has taken over one million calls in that time. There is no cost to the caller as the center is funded mainly by United Way. They also receive county funding and other donations.

The center is available to take calls 24/7. They offer help with many services, not just addiction, including assistance for food, housing and shelter, education, legal advice, emergencies, physical and mental health issues, financial assistance, transportation, and state agency and program information.

For more information, visit the website


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