MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Services will distribute 1,600 fentanyl testing strips to help prevent opioid-related deaths.
Mike Lappen of Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Services said his office is ready to hand them out.
"Our primary objective is to keep people alive long enough to engage them in treatment and help," Lappen said.
The strips detect the presence of fentanyl in powders or injectables and can help prevent accidental overdoses.
According to the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office, 560 people died from drug overdoses in 2021. Of those 560, fentanyl, either alone or in combination with other drugs, resulted in 79 percent of drug overdose deaths, a news release says.
So far this year, 67 people have died from a drug overdose of that 51 involved fentanyl, according to the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office.
“Under Wisconsin law, fentanyl testing strips are considered drug paraphernalia and are illegal to possess by both community members and first responders; however, they are a crucial, life-saving resource,” said Milwaukee County Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez. “Without access to these testing strips, drug users risk overdose from the otherwise undetectable presence of fentanyl, which is why I am so passionate about the legalization of these strips and proud that bipartisan legislation has accomplished that goal.”
Katie Schumacher said her brother Kevin Fischer Maga struggled with mental illness growing up and that led him to self-medicating and eventually becoming addicted to opioids.
"He thought he was purchasing Percocet from someone he trusted," Schumacher said.
She said her brother was given a pill laced with fentanyl and died in 2020.
Two years later and Schumacher still can't shake the feeling knowing that her brother could still be here if fentanyl testing strips were readily available.
"I absolutely think if these test strips were available, he could still be here today," Schumacher said.
Dr. Nathan Valentine with Rogers Behavioral Health believes the testing stripes will be a game changer when it comes to life or death.
"We know that these strips can significantly reduce death," Valentine said. "The ability to know whether or not fentanyl is in a given substance can help people prevent accidental overdoses."
Schumacher said while the testing strips weren't around to help her brother, she's glad Wisconsin is taking action.
"I am hoping that it will save any family the pain our family had to go through," she said.
For those looking to get their hands on testing strips, they can contact Vivent Health who has been handing out testing strips to drug users across Wisconsin since 2019 at (800) 359-9272 or Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Services at (414)252-8085.
For more information and to learn more about available resources, please click here. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health or a substance use disorder crisis, call the Milwaukee County 24/7 crisis line at 414-257-7222.