New research to give insight on opioid epidemic

Posted at 6:25 PM, Jan 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-06 20:23:37-05

One of the country's deadliest drugs kills hundreds of people in Wisconsin every year. At least 299 people in Milwaukee County died in 2016 from opioid overdose.

Now, Medical College of Wisconsin researchers plan to dig deep to get new data - combining information like never before.

The MCW researchers are funded by the Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment. They have almost $300,000 over two years to create a system collecting data from Milwaukee County Emergency Management, the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner, and Wisconsin's Department of Justice Crime lab.

Right now, they each collect different types of information. Emergency management looks at what paramedics see in the field; the medical examiner collects demographics and causes of death; the DOJ analyzes samples to find out what drugs killed people and if those people have criminal pasts.

"So the story will change in that it's not just talking about how many people died, but what more can we tell you about the people," said Mallory O'Brien, the assistant professor for MCW leading this research.

She and Attorney General Brad Schimel feel a multi-disciplinary approach, aided by unified information, can help create more effective solutions.

"We have public health, we have the medical community involved, and we're looking at where can we do things better, recognizing that we can't just arrest our way out of this," said Schimel.

While he and other department leaders can make training and policy changes to impact overdose deaths, Schimel said the state legislature has unanimously approved many efforts to combat opioid overdose and he believes they will continue to do so.

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