MPD announces new overdose task force

More people have died so far this year in Milwaukee County of drug overdoses than in all of 2016 and the medical examiner expects those numbers to increase in the last two weeks of the year.

The startling statistics come at a time when the Milwaukee Police Department is announcing a new task force that will focus on taking drug dealers off the streets. 

The Overdose Task Force will have 16 members and will be dedicated solely to finding out where people who overdose are getting their drugs. 

"Last week in one day, there were eight probable overdose deaths in the county," said Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn.  

He says the goal of this new task force is to disrupt the drug market in Milwaukee.

"Their full-time job is going to be identifying the suppliers in overdose deaths," he said. "We're enforcement focused, looking to prosecute dealers and not users." 

According to the medical examiner's office, 357 people have died from drug deaths so far this year and 85 percent of them are opioid-related. 

The total number of deaths in 2016 was 343. 

"More people have died in Milwaukee from that than homicides and traffic accidents combined," Flynn said. 

Flynn was joined for the announcement by Mayor Tom Barrett and Alderman Michael Murphy.

Murphy said the drugs are getting more deadly as dealers are cutting heroin with the highly dangerous fentanyl and carfentanil. 

"People are playing Russian Roulette with their lives but they're so addicted to this drug that they're willing to take that chance," Murphy said. 

Flynn says police enforcement is just one component of a larger effort to fight this epidemic. 

"If we can disrupt the market and make it harder for people to procure the drug, even if only a little bit harder, we may create an environment where people who can't get what they need as quickly as they want find themselves seeking treatment," he said. 

The task force creation is timed with the county's purchase of a new, $400,000 drug screening machine that allows police to find out within days what kind of drug was involved in an overdose. 

With that advantage, Flynn says they can more quickly go after the dealers. 

The machine was purchased with $200,000 of county money and another $200,000 from the city's Byrne Justice Assistance grant. 

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